Sun Safety: FDA updates decades old regulations for sunscreen

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Using sunscreen is supposed to protect you from skin cancer, but according to the Food and Drug Administration, requirements for over-the-counter sunscreen products haven’t been updated in decades. This delay in updates is potentially putting you at risk.

In Fort Myers, Beth Zimmerman says she is, “a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a sister. I’m a daughter.” You can add skin cancer survivor to that list too.

She explained, “I had noticed a white spot on my shoulder.” She was 39 years old when she was diagnosed melanoma. She added, “what turned out to be a little spot no bigger than the tip of my finger turned into about 25 stitches.”

She said they got it all, but she will be wearing sunscreen much more carefully in the years to come.

“I definitely am more paranoid,” she added.

The FDA said products containing both sunscreen and insect repellent are not yet considered safe and effective, and the Environmental Working Group is set to release alarming new research. They’re expected to announced new tests show nearly 60 percent of the sunscreens they researched would not pass the new FDA standards. Research shows some sunscreens don’t block the sun enough or contain chemicals that can hurt you and the environment.

Senior scientist with EWG, Dr. David Andrews recommended using products with, “zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Those ingredients, actually, are used in the majority of products on our recommended list.”

Those compounds don’t absorb into your skin, and they block the sun’s harmful rays.

Newly proposed FDA regulations address different types of products to determine which are effective and which are not. While products such as sprays, oils, lotions, creams, gels, and sticks are generally considered effective, the FDA found newer products, such as powders, wipes, and body washes still need more research before they can be recommended.

Dr. Melissa Piliang with the Cleveland Clinic said the amount you use is also a big factor. “If you don’t put on enough, then the coat is too thin, and you don’t get the protection that you think you’re getting,” she shared.

To cover the entire body, you should use one ounce, which is about the amount that fits into a shot glass.

Kristin Schmidt, a physician assistant with Advanced Dermatology said, “I’m a big fan of hats and sun-protective clothing, because they don’t rub off and they last.”

She also said the cancer can appear in places you might not expect and said, “a melanoma can happen on your scalp, under your nail, even in your eye.”

That’s why Schmidt tells patients to watch for, “if things are changing, size, shape, itching, bleeding, that’s definitely a cause for concern that should be checked right away.”

Those are warning signs Zimmerman said she will be on the lookout for with herself and her family.

“Had I not come in to get checked, who knows what would’ve happened,” Zimmerman concluded.

The FDA’s recommendations are still in the works. The EWG report is set for release May 22. Dr. Piliang said the most important thing consumers should keep in mind when it comes to sunscreen is finding a product that’s broad-spectrum. Apply it generously.

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