Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Does SPF provide a false sense of security?
Last week I blogged on the results of an informal poll of my friends and family regarding their use of sunscreen to illustrate the importance of skin protection for people of all skin types and colors. But, if you're like me and have never worn sunscreen, then the letters SPF probably mean nothing to you. Hey, even if you have slathered on sunscreen, SPF and all the numbers can still be very confusing. Does SPF stop you from getting skin cancer? Or does it provide a false sense of security?
For help on answering these questions and others, I spoke with Dr. Jodi Ganz, an Atlanta, Georgia, dermatologist. Here's what I learned.
The "Sun Protection Factor" or SPF is a rating system used by the Food and Drug Administration to express how much sun exposure your skin can receive before burning. This burning baseline differs per skin color, with fairer-skinned people tending to burn more quickly than those with darker complexions. The number you see on sunscreen labels (15, 45, 80, etc.), means the SPF value, or the protection against sunburn, is increased. The higher the number, the more the protection. But, it doesn't protect against everything! Which leads me to the next point...
Wearing SPF lotions, creams, and even clothing does not mean you can entirely avoid the sun's damaging UV rays, and therefore does not stop you from getting skin cancers. So if that's the case, how do we explain the more than 100,000 over-the-counter SPF products currently on the market? Well, the FDA believes prevention is the best solution. The products don't eliminate your risk, they minimize them. And if you take into consideration research from the American Cancer Society showing melanoma causes nearly 80 percent of all skin cancer deaths, then perhaps prevention is not a bad idea.
Dr. Ganz, says SPF protection provides a false sense of security if you're not informed. Knowing the options and their limitations means you're giving yourself one more line of defense. For instance, your SPF is effective only as long as the lotion remains on. Heavy sweat and spending time in the water can weaken the sunscreen and re-applications are important. In theory it should take longer to burn with an SPF 60, than with an SPF 30. But, how much longer depends on how fast a person burns in the first place. With that said, if you'd like to learn more, check out the article Separating Sunscreen Fact from Fiction on CNN.com.
I'm curious-- what is your skin type and what SPF sunscreen do you use? Have you changed your "sunning" habits in recent years? Why?
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• Climate change and diminishing desert resources
• Fit Buddies update
• Addicted to food?
• Skin cancer... A risk for all skin types
• Surviving life with crystal meth
• Fit Buddies update
• Meeting of the minds on cancer
• Voting for better health care
• Defining contagiousness
• TB case: Could you have done the same?