About every hour at the Wilson Family Y pool, Heidi Wells lined up her grandchildren – Jordan, Monica and Noel Garcia Jr. – and sprayed them down with sunscreen. Her reason is simple: “Because we lobster,” she said, laughing.
While Wells was using good sunscreen practices, most people don’t, dermatologists said. As Memorial Day approaches and thoughts turn to the beach or pool, using sunscreens the right way is important to get that protection, doctors said.
The Food and Drug Administration formulated new rules for labeling and effectiveness testing of sunscreen to now include protection from ultraviolet A (UVA) light as well as ultraviolet B (UVB) light. UVB typically causes sunburn and UVA is more closely associated with aging and potential skin cancer, said Dr. Loretta S. Davis, professor and chief of dermatology at Georgia Health Sciences University.
In order to be labeled “broad spectrum,” sunscreens would have to pass effectiveness testing against both, but the FDA announced earlier this month that it was delaying that rule for larger manufacturers until Dec. 17 to ensure there was an adequate supply of sunscreen this summer.
Sunscreens also can no longer call themselves “waterproof” but can be labeled “water resistant” if they pass immersion tests of 40 or 80 minutes, according to the FDA.
Wells said that is just common sense.
“Once it gets in that chlorine pool, it doesn’t last long,” she said, looking out at the water at the Family Y.
Even with all of these new changes, the sunscreen is only as good “if you use it,” Davis said. Most people don’t know they are supposed to reapply every two hours and more often if they are sweating or getting wet, said Dr. Avis Yount of Augusta Dermatology Associates. And it needs to be applied at least 15 minutes before exposure, she said.
“You really have to get it into the skin and let it sit there,” Yount said. “I’ve always said 30 minutes before (exposure).”
“Most people pack it up in their beach bag and go out to the beach with it,” Davis said. “It’s already too late.”
Or they don’t use enough of it, Yount and Davis said. The recommended amount is a shotglass-full for sun exposed areas, about an ounce, Davis said.
“Sunscreens are expensive as things go, especially the nicer ones, so people tend not to use enough,” she said.
Some have opposed using sunscreen because they believe that it would block the production of vitamin D, which the body makes from sunlight. But as little as five minutes of exposure can produce an adequate amount of vitamin D, Yount said.
“And that’s about all your body can make for that day,” she said. “You can stay out longer but it is not going to make any more vitamin D.”
It’s also important to wear adequate sunglasses – sun damage has been linked to cataracts, Yount said.
“And don’t forget your lips,” Davis said. “We see a fair amount of precancerous changes on lips and skin cancers on lips tend to be more aggressive.”