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With the temperature rising and millions of Americans ready to hit the outdoors this summer, wearing sunscreen to protect them from the glaring sun would seem to be a must. But given certain important new information that has been revealed of late, one has to ask, how much protection does sunscreen really provide?

A recent class action lawsuit raises some important questions about the sunscreen industry by challenging top manufacturers to get their facts straight. The lawsuit contends that the companies have knowingly exposed consumers to skin damage, including cancer, premature aging, wrinkling, and other skin ailments by claiming their sunscreens are more effective against UV rays than they actually are.

Manufacturers use a variety of active ingredients in their products to keep skin from burning. These products’ level of effectiveness against sunburn has until now been measured as its sun protection factor (SPF). We are all familiar with this system, and we all believe the higher the SPF, the more protection our skin will have.

Well, guess what? These SPF numbers are very misleading. Here is why- When SPF ratings are listed on product packaging, they are often accompanied by a claim of UVA and UVB protection. This is a misleading claim, because it suggests that the SPF rating applies to both types of sun’s rays, but this is not the case.

As of this writing, there is currently no reliable method of testing the UVA protection of a product. The SPF actually describes only the level of protection against the UVB rays. Also, be advised that when you buy sunscreen with a SPF higher than 30, it has no more effect that a 30, which is the highest effective SPF there is. Be aware that SPF 70, for example, is just a marketing tool, and offers no more protection than a 30 against harmful skin damage.

Finally, there is no such thing as a waterproof or sweat resistant sunscreen. Sooner than later it will wash off or wear off, so sunscreen should be reapplied frequently, not work all day as some product’s label’s boast.

Although the FDA has released new testing standards for UVA rays, along with new guidelines for SPF labeling, the changes most likely won’t hit the shelves any time soon.

In a high profile class action lawsuit against seven sunscreen manufacturers, including Schering-Plough, Banana Boat, Coppertone, Neutrogena, Bullfrog, and Hawaiian Tropic, lawyers for high–powered law firm Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, the legal field is attempting to light a fire under the sunscreen industry and force compliance with government regulations. In 2001, the FDA and FTC issued a deadline for compliance with several new codes mandating the advertising and testing practices of the sunscreen industry, but the voluntary compliance requested in the monograph was largely ignored by the major manufacturers in the industry—roughly 70% of the market share. The list includes most major brands of sunscreen,.The FDA’s latest monograph is in response to several other failed attempts at regulation throughout the mid-to-late nineties. After an extensive lobbying campaign, the monograph was buried due to a court ruling in favor of corporate free speech.

“Essentially, we’re dealing with government orders that are ignored, final monographs that are asked to be voluntarily complied with that are not, and a lobbying effort that shuts down a final monograph. And the result is, an industry marketing products which we believe, and we allege in our lawsuit, on false, misleading claims, and they know it, and they’re continuing to do it, and the reason they’re continuing to do it is for the simple reason of greed.” said Mitch Twersky, a partner working on the lawsuit, in a recent press conference.

The bottom line is that when companies make claims like this, it leads to false notions about the safety of being exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods of time. By creating a false sense of security, sunscreen manufacturers encourage consumers to stay in the sun for longer periods of time. Their products prevent sunburns, but sunburns are natural indicators of overexposure to sunlight. “Just because you’re not burning using sunscreen doesn’t mean that you’re not being harmed by UV rays,” said Twersky, later in the conference. Still, dangerous UVA rays penetrate the skin even deeper than UVB rays, causing damage to elastin, a leading cause of wrinkles, and genetic mutations, which lead to skin cancer.

So what is one to do? Anyone wishing to enjoy a beautiful summer day has to play it safe. We cannot rely on suntan lotion to protect us from skin cancer, wrinkles, and aging. So remember, until some things change, the old way is still the best way to keep your skin safe. Avoid the midday sun, stay in the shade when possible, always wear a hat, and cover what you can! / Issue 59 - September 2018
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