SPF and what the numbers mean
The first priority of a sunscreen and lip balm policy is to allow the usage of these items without a physician's note or prescription. Sunscreen and lip balm usage can also be encouraged, or even required, for students and staff spending time outdoors, especially on high UV days.
Students and staff can use sunscreen on skin that is not already covered with sun protective clothing. Sunscreens reduce the amount of dangerous UV rays that reach and damage the skin by reflecting or absorbing the radiation. Sunscreen and lip balm should have an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or more. On average, SPF 15 provides about two hours of protection for a light-skinned person on a sunny summer day. Higher SPFs (e.g., 30 or 45) can be used for more hours of protection.
Sunscreen extends the skin's natural protection by a factor of the SPF number. If your skin usually burns in 10 minutes, it won't burn for 150 minutes if you are wearing sunscreen with SPF 15 (10 minutes x SPF 15 = 150 minutes or 2½ hours). Also, that SPF 15 blocks 93% of UV rays. An SPF 50 blocks only 98%. So no matter what, some UV is getting through to the skin. No sunscreen lasts all day or blocks 100% of the sun's UV radiation.
Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow time for the chemicals to be absorbed into the skin. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen products that block out both UVA and UVB rays. Use sunscreen every day-–even on cool or cloudy days. About 70 to 80 percent of the sun’s damaging rays can penetrate through cloudy haze and water.
Choose sunscreens with the fewest unnecessary ingredients. Use water resistant sunscreens that will not be washed off through perspiration, and to be sure you're protected, reapply sunscreen every two hours, and after swimming or sweating. Finally, recent studies suggest that insect repellents containing DEET (the active ingredient in most insect repellents) may degrade the SPF of sunscreens.
Tips to promote sunscreen use at the district level:
- Develop policies to set guidelines for appropriate sunscreen use
- Develop procedures for recognizing student sunburns and providing aide
- Research and purchase a single brand of sunscreen for the entire district to use This makes identifying the source of an allergic reaction much easier than having multiple brands
Tips to promote sunscreen use at the school level:
- Ask parents to provide or apply sunscreen to their children for these outdoor activities
- Encourage everyone to use sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 15 or greater every day, all year long, on all sun-exposed areas of the skin
- Allow time during school for the application of sunscreen
- Sell or provide sunscreen at school. Bulk sunscreen dispensers are available and can be easily accessible when students head outdoors for school activities such as physical education classes, recess, before and after school programs, and sporting events
- Use sunscreen as a fund-raiser. Sell it at concession stands and during outdoor events
- Solicit the help of student leaders (e.g., student council, cheerleaders) to promote the use of sunscreen among their peers
What are the sunscreen regulations the FDA established in June 2011?
The final regulations, which become effective in the summer of 2012, establish a standard test for over-the-counter sunscreen products that will determine which products are allowed to be labeled as "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]." Products that pass this test will provide protection against both ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and ultraviolet A radiation (UVA). Scientific data has demonstrated that products that are "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]" have been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging when used with other sun protection measures, in addition to helping prevent sunburn. Other sun protection measures include limiting time in the sun and wearing protective clothing. In order to be labeled "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher], a sunscreen will have to screen a significant portion of UVA spectrum (up to at least 370 nanometers). Also, the amount of UVA protection must increase as the SPF value increases. In contrast, any sunscreen not labeled as "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]" or that has an SPF value between 2 and 14, can only claim to help prevent sunburn.
Beginning in 2012, manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are "waterproof" or "sweatproof, or identify their products as "sunblocks," because no sunscreen blocks 100% of UV. Also, sunscreens cannot claim protection immediately upon application (for example, "instant protection") or protection for more than two hours without reapplication without submitting data to support these claims and obtaining FDA approval.
In additional proposed rules, the FDA is further proposing that an upper limit for SPF values be set at 50+. This is because there is not sufficient data to show that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide greater protection for users than products with SPF values of 50.
Following the new FDA regulations, what should I be looking for on labels when I’m shopping for sunscreen?
On the front of the bottle:
- Under the new regulations, sunscreen products that protect against all types (BOTH UVB and UVA) of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled "Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]" on the front.
- Water resistance claims on the product's front label must tell how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Two times will be permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes of protection.
On the back of the bottle:
- The new labeling will also tell consumers on the back of the product that sunscreens labeled as both "Broad Spectrum" and "SPF 15" (or higher) not only protect against sunburn, but, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. For these broad spectrum products, higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) values also indicate higher levels of overall UV protection.
- Sunscreen products that are not broad spectrum or that are broad spectrum with SPF values from 2 to 14 will be labeled with a warning that reads: "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."
Looking for sun safety products? Click here for a list of companies that sell sunscreen.
Have more questions about sunscreen? Check out Skin Cancer 101 - Sunscreen.
Most sunscreens expire after two years and should be replaced. If your sunscreen lotion feels gritty, the active ingredients may have come out of the solution.