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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Sunscreen safety

Summer is here and it’s a great time to be outside enjoying swimming, walking, bike riding, hiking, picnics and other outdoor activities. While the summer sun is a a great way to get Vitamin D, caution is needed to avoid sunburn or the risk of developing melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Follow safe sun practices such as:

  • Wear a hat
  • Wear sunglasses with UV (ultraviolet) and UVB (ultraviolet B)protection
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors
  • Using sunscreen with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher
  • Avoid the sun between 10AM and 2PM
  • Reapply sunscreen regularly while outdoors, especially after swimming or sweating

Sunscreen lotions protect from the sun through the use of oxybenzone (or benzophenone-3) a chemical found in 96 percent of sunscreen lotions (Environmental Working Group, 2011). Oxybenzone is an organic compound used as an active ingredient that has the ability to absorb UV rays thus helping to prevent sunburn. Oxybenzone in sunscreen lotions can cause allergic reactions, reading sunscreen labels is important before purchasing or applying to the skin.   
Skin protection claims are an issue with sunscreens. These claims made by most sunscreens regarding skin protection need further explanation. Starting in summer 2012, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will enforce manufacturers to prove ‘Broad Spectrum’ claims. If a sunscreen lotion is labeled ‘Broad Spectrum’ this means it protects against both forms of sun damage caused by ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “UVA rays penetrate deeper into the dermis, the thickest layer of the skin; UVA rays can cause suppression of the immune system, which interferes with the immune system's ability to protect you against the development and spread of skin cancer. UVA exposure also is known to lead to signs of premature aging of the skin such as wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays “are the suns burning rays (which are blocked by window glass) and are the primary cause of sunburn.”  The five top sunscreen lotions listed on http://www.consumersearch.com/sunscreen  are:

  1. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sun block SPF 30
  2. No -Ad Sun block Lotion SPF 45
  3. Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive
  4. Banana Boat Sports Performance Broad Spectrum SPF 100
  5. Badger SPF 30 for Face and Body.

The higher the SPF the better, but the FDA (2011) states if a sunscreen lotion is labeled SPF 50 or higher it doesn’t mean it provides more protection.  It is a good idea to re-apply sunscreen every two hours and more often if swimming or sweating.  If a product is claiming water resistance on the front label they must tell the user how much they can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating, based on the standard testing (FDA, 2011).  Sunscreen makers have to alert users that their products can “prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”  If a sunscreen has 50 SPF it must include 50+ on the label.

Consumer education and careful reading of the FDA regulations are both important in protecting your skin from sun damage.



By Nancy Morales, 7/1/2011