This year I began a journey to find a “REEF SAFE” sunscreen. I love to dive and have an incredible appreciation and love for my oceans and all the wonders they hold, big and small. Never in a MILLION years did I think that I would uncover so many misconceptions, advertising scams and manipulations, and lack of governmental control as I have since discovered. I have also discovered a couple of ingredients used abroad that the FDA has not approved that are good for humans and our reef. (more on that later)
For example, take a look at a bottle of sunscreen and you will find words such as SPF, waterproof and UVA protection in big, bold flashy letters that are supposed to educate you about the sunscreen product. People, please do not be the cow in the field that says “MOO” and just follows along into the slaughter house. Below you will find a short lesson in all things sunscreen to help you decide wisely. (Hubby has told me that some of the posts are getting too long…I have explained it is hard to compartmentalize so many facts as they are unfolding very quickly with research.)
- SPF (sunscreen protection factor)
This number is frequently misunderstood. It was misunderstood by me. My husband is a light skinned, freckly Celtic boy who easily burns or just freckles. He doesn;t really tan geart but the freckle line is moving up his arm. I am always on him to make sure he covers every area or he is a crispy critter.
Well, did you know that an SPF 30 sunscreen does not offer double the protection of an SPF 15? In truth, the difference is minimal. Experts say SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. In addition, SPF ratings higher than 30 don’t offer more UV protection, and they let the same 3 percent of UV rays through as SPF 30 sunscreen. A higher SPF however does mean you may not have to reapply as often. So, if you are out on the boat or on a kayak for long periods of time where you can’t reappy, higher SPF may be the right thing for you.
To confuse matters even more, SPF only applies to UVB rays not UVA rays. For that reason, it’s just as important to look specifically for UVA protection. Ultimately, when it comes to purchasing sunscreen, know that SPF 30 offers adequate protection when extended sun exposure is expected and SPF 15 is suitable for everyday use.
Although many sunscreen manufacturers use the terms “waterproof” and “sweat-proof” to describe their products, sunscreens can more accurately be described as water- and sweat-resistant because they need to be reapplied after exercise or contact with water. There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. “Sunblock” also is not a completely accurate term because no product can block all harmful rays.
- Logos from the American Cancer Society
(ACS). This does not indicate that the ACS has tested or endorses the sunscreen — the companies pay a royalty fee for the right to display the logo.
There is some good news on this front. The Food and Drug Adinistration (FDA) will have new restrictions for sunscreen that start June 18, 2012. However, last minute this month, the agency announced it will now give sunscreen makers an extra six months to make changes, meaning they will take effect this winter in mid-December, instead of this summer.of this year (2012). Smaller companies under $25000 will have an extra full year (DEC 2013) to comply.
Among the changes FDA is supposed to make:
• In order for sunscreens to be labeled as “Broad Spectrum” they must block both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays cause skin aging; UVB rays cause sunburn. Both can cause cancer.
• Products with SPFs below 15 must display a warning that it has not been shown to help prevent skin cancer or early skin aging.
• The terms “sunblock,” “sweatproof,” and “waterproof” will no longer permitted. Sunscreens may claim to be “water-resistant” but labeling must specify whether they protect skin for 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, based on standard testing.
• Products may no longer claim to provide sun protection for more than two hours without submitting test results to prove it.
• All sunscreens must include standard “Drug Facts” information on the back or side of the container.
Hopefully this will start making companies be more accountable on the claims they make. There are several Senators who are writing letters in protest of the delay in enforcing the changes (read more). I have contacted many companies I have been testing and when I ask if they have any scientific proof to back up claims, I suddenly do not get answer to my emails or phone call.
Stay tuned as Danielle’s Dives uncovers more and hopefully find a good human friendly, ocean friendly, marine animal friendly product we can all enjoy.