MD Anderson Experts Share Sunscreen Tips

In recognition of National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has released the latest information on requirements for sunscreen labels. Experts at MD Anderson recognize that these labels can be confusing and misleading at times, and want to stress the importance of people understanding the limitations of the products they buy and use this summer. Now, all United States sunscreen makers are required to use labels with simpler language.

Sunscreen

“And, that’s good news for you because choosing the right sunscreen – and applying it correctly - can help protect your skin from harmful UV rays that can cause skin cancer,” said Carol Drucker, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson’s department of dermatology.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently implemented the following changes, forcing manufacturers to be honest about their products.

Sunblocks: No product completely shields a person from the sun, so sunscreens won’t be labeled as “sunblock” anymore.

SPF level: A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more means a product lowers the risk of skin cancer and skin aging. Not so for SPFs from 2 to 14; they only help prevent sunburn at best. Sunscreen labels will have to be clear about how much SPF they provide - and whether they actually curb your risk of skin cancer and skin aging, or just help prevent sunburns.

Broad spectrum: To be labeled “broad spectrum,” sunscreens must provide equal protection against the sun’s two types of radiation: UVA and UVB. Both types can lead to cancer. UVA gives you more wrinkles; UVB causes sunburns.

“Waterproof” and “sweat-proof” claims: These claims will disappear. Sunscreens can only say how long they offer water-resistant protection. And, they have to back up these promises with test results.

Instant protection: Sunscreens can’t say they provide “instant protection” or protect skin for more than two hours. That’s unless the FDA approves these claims for the specific sunscreen in question.

The single most important factor in picking a sunscreen is finding one the family likes.

“Sunscreen comes in creams, lotions, sprays, gels, wax sticks and wipes,” Drucker said. “If you buy one with a texture you like, you’ll use it more often.”

For safe fun in the sun, Drucker recommends using a sunscreen that:

  • provides SPF 30 or higher,
  • has broad-spectrum protection (UVA and UVB), and
  • is water-resistant.

Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. And be sure to reapply liberally every two hours.

“To really protect your skin, you should apply one ounce of sunscreen - the size of a golf ball – to cover every part of your body exposed to the sun,” Drucker says. “That includes your ears, feet and back of the neck.”

For additional tips on health and exercise, visit mdanderson.org/focused. To learn more about the MD Anderson Regional Care Center in The Woodlands, visit mdanderson.org/woodlands.