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Before you go out in the summer sun and you slather on protective sunscreen—whether it is a cream, lotion or potion, you may want to read this. It is possible the protections sunscreens are purported to provide—and advertisers have been all too willing to make us believe—may have been too good to be true… Actually, it’s not that sunscreens don’t protect you from the sun’s harmful rays, they do to some degree depending upon the type, but to what extent do they protect you, and, what do they do in addition that should prompt some caution?

It will be a year in July 2011 since the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington, D.C., published a report on the advantages and disadvantages of using sunscreen. Not only do some sunscreens reportedly not do the job they are supposed to do, but they may encourage some cancers, like melanoma. The EWG says that the Vitamin A derivative in many sunscreens causes the breakdown of skin cells allowing some cancers to spread.

Some sunscreen products protect against only UVB rays and others protect against both UVA and UVB rays. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, will now require sunscreen manufacturers "to prove their product effectively protects against both forms of dangerous ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) before they can claim to protect against skin cancer and wrinkles, as well as sunburn."

Beginning next summer, consumers need to purchase sunscreens with an SPF of at least 15 that show the words, "broad spectrum", on the label. SPF, or sun-protection factor, is represented as a number, such as 15, 30 or 50, indicating the degree of sunburn protection provided by a sunscreen. SPF, the website tells us, is related to the total amount of sun exposure rather than the length of time of sun exposure.

According to the FDA, in order to be able to say a sunscreen is a broad spectrum sunscreen, sunscreen products will need to pass tests which show they protect against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays, UVA rays being the most damaging to all layers of skin. Present standards only apply to UVB rays which cause sunburn. Also, beginning next summer, sunscreen products with an SPF of less than 15 or those that do not (qualify to) say "broad spectrum" on their labels, will need to carry a warning label stating,

In addition to using a sunscreen that works properly (one that hopefully will pass the tests and doesn’t encourage the manufacture of free radicals), some basic common sense suggestions for skin protection are:

  • If you’re going out in the sun for any length of time, wear protective clothing!

  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat that protects your face!

  • Find a shady spot in which to rest,

  • Limit your time and activity in the sun—and whether it’s you or your kids– make sure to stay hydrated, and
  • Talk to your doctor about what other steps you should take.


  1. Gravatar for soggo

    The proofreading and editing of this article are so poor I would be forgiven for concluding that the same lack of care went into its research and fact finding. Writers disregard proper grammar and other journalistic standards at their peril.

  2. Gravatar for DevNull

    I always take medical advice from lawyers in Tampa. I will slather some sunscreen on my tinfoil hat now...

  3. Gravatar for Greg Webb


    You are absolutely correct. I failed miserably to adequately proofread and edit the blog! Thank you for kicking my butt on that - seriously. I was doing it in a hurry, and it showed. Also, during my first draft, my computer died, so that caused further issues for me. I have tried to clean it up some.


  4. Gravatar for Greg Webb


    Do not take medical advice from a lawyer. Ever. And I was not trying to give medical advice. My attempt, albeit poorly (see Soggo post), was to get more facts out there on sunscreens. I use sunscreen, as does my family. And I intend to keep using it, but I may be more careful in looking at the label now, especially in order to get both UVA and UVB protection.

    Happy sunbathing! By the way, you live in a great part of the country.


    Greg Webb

    p.s. - I also mention in the blog to listen to your doctor.

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