WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — If you're shopping for sunscreen as summer kicks into high gear, you might see this warning on some products:
"Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."
Don't buy a product labeled like that. Instead, look for those with the term "broad spectrum."
Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen will protect against the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and also its ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which also contribute to skin cancer. To qualify as broad spectrum, the sunscreen must have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
This is the first summer in which the new sunscreen labeling rules are in effect.
If a product's front label makes claims of being water resistant, the FDA now requires it to designate whether it's protective for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Manufacturers are also prohibited from making claims that their sunscreens are "waterproof" or "sweatproof."
Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before exposure, the FDA says.
No sunscreen completely blocks UV radiation, the FDA says. Other common-sense precautions, such as limiting time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and wearing hats, shirts and sunglasses, are needed too.
Infants under six months should kept out of the sun completely.
Lisa Richman, director of the Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation of West Palm Beach, said she totally agrees the government should not allow the term "broad spectrum" on a product that does not meet testing standards.
The newest medical advice based on the latest data is to use a sunscreen with SPF 50, Richman said. An SPF of 60, 80, or 120 does not double and triple effectiveness or protection.
FDA has no data showing that sunscreens with an SPF of more than 50 provide additional benefits compared to those with SPF 50.
Which type of sunscreen, such as a spray or lotion, is best?
"We prefer the rub-on kind. You can control it more. I don't like propellants or sprays for most products," Richman said.
Look for sunscreens with zinc and titanium bases, which are natural. It's also important to reapply sunscreens every three hours because the base breaks down, especially after swimming and sweating, Richman said.
There's a lot to know about sunscreens, but ignorance is no excuse for not using them and damaging your skin by too much exposure to the sun.
For those who want guidance on which products are best, Environmental Working Group just released its 2013 Guide to Sunscreens. Go to Ewg.org/2013sunscreen.
Despite the FDA's actions, EWG's review of the sunscreen market finds only minimal improvements in products on the shelves. Many sunscreens available on the U.S. market do not filter skin-damaging rays safely and effectively.
There's more awareness of how dangerous sun exposure can be, yet the rates of first-time diagnoses of melanoma — the most deadly skin cancer — have tripled over the past 35 years, increasing 1.9 percent annually since 2000.
While no one knows why that is, EWG says one factor may be misleading sunscreen marketing that causes people to believe, wrongly, that the products are blocking harmful rays.
"While other cancers are decreasing in incidence, melanoma is increasing and yet is probably the only cancer you can prevent with education and, of course, the highest quality products," Richman said.
The foundation wants to see the teaching of sun safety become mandatory in schools, Richman said.
EWG found that one quarter of sunscreens it reviewed for 2013 offer good skin protection and are free of ingredients with serious safety concerns.
The SunSmart America rules provided by the Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation are: Slip on some sun protective clothing; slop on SPF 30-plus sunscreen; slap on a hat; seek shade; slide on some sunglasses.
Here is what the Environmental Working Group says to avoid: Spray sunscreens; super-high SPFs; oxybenzone, a chemical that acts like estrogen; loose powder sunscreens; retinyl palmitate because it may speed development of skin tumors and lesions; combined sunscreen/bug repellents; sunscreen towelettes; tanning oils.