Trust Us. It's Safe!
The FDA announced that after leaping into action in 1978, it has come to a decision that sunscreen makers are saying things that are not true. After exposing people to harm for 33 years, sunscreen makers are going to be forced to make some trivial labeling changes. The New York Times breathlessly claims the sunscreen industry will be transformed. In fact, sunscreen manufacturers will no longer be able to call their products “water proof” (it took 33 years to figure that out?).
The new regulations will also more clearly define the term “broad spectrum”, and limit the claim that it “prevents sunburn” to products that are SPF 15 or greater. Big deal. Nobody is going to read that pathetic fine print. They are going to buy the big blue bottle that says KIDS.
Besides some of my other gripes about sunscreen, such as the toxic chemicals and that there is little or no proof that it prevents cancer, my biggest gripe is that manufacturers do not tell you how much to use (and of course the FDA doesn’t address this). If you think you know the proper amount, you are wrong!
Here is what Wikipedia (sunscreen) has to say about how much sunscreen is used in the official tests vs. how much sunscreen you use:
The dose used in FDA sunscreen testing is 2 mg/cm² of exposed skin. Provided one assumes an “average” adult build of height 5 ft 4 in (163 cm) and weight 150 lb (68 kg) with a 32 in (82 cm) waist, that adult wearing a bathing suit covering the groin area should apply 29 g (approximately 1 oz) evenly to the uncovered body area. Considering only the face, this translates to about 1/4 to 1/3 of a teaspoon for the average adult face. Larger individuals should scale these quantities accordingly.
Contrary to the common advice that sunscreen should be reapplied every 2–3 hours, some research has shown that the best protection is achieved by application 15–30 minutes before exposure, followed by one reapplication 15–30 minutes after the sun exposure begins. Further reapplication is only necessary after activities such as swimming, sweating, or rubbing/wiping.
However, more recent research at the University of California, Riverside, indicates that sunscreen needs to be reapplied within 2 hours in order to remain effective. Not reapplying could even cause more cell damage than not using sunscreen at all, due to the release of extra free radicals from those sunscreen chemicals which were absorbed into the skin. Some studies have shown that people commonly apply only 1/2 to 1/4 of the amount recommended to achieve the rated sun protection factor (SPF), and in consequence the effective SPF should be downgraded to a square or 4th root of the advertised value.
That means you are supposed to use at least ¼ of an entire 4 oz bottle if you are going swimming. Let me do that math for you. To figure out the actual SPF of the sunscreen you are using, taking into consideration that you are using 1/4th the proper amount, you must take the 4th root of the stated SPF. That means when the bottle says SPF 50, you are actually getting an SPF of 2.7 ! So unless you look like a clown covered in white makeup after you apply your sunscreen, you are getting 1/19th of the protection that you were hoping for.
I almost never use sunscreen on my kids. On normal days, I let them get sun. If they are going to be out for a while they wear hats with brims, long sleeved shirts, or the stretchy fabric shirts for the water. And if that is not going to be enough protection, I apply one of the zinc or titanium oxide sun screens suggested by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) – Skin Deep – Sunscreens 2011. And the EWG also has an iPhone app for your drug store trips.
Maybe in 33 more years, in the year 2044, the FDA will recommend that you not smear poison on your children at all! Of course your 8 year old will be 41 by then, and will have spent her life lathered in ineffective harmful chemicals. Thanks for protecting chemical companies rather than our children American Government!
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