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Dermatologists review FDA's updated sunscreen guidelines

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its long-awaited updated guidelines for sunscreens earlier this summer, and as hoped, more definitive standards were set delineating which sunscreens can designate themselves as having "broad-spectrum" protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

The guidelines also ban the use of SPF designations over 50 and claims of sunscreens to be waterproof or sweatproof. They also call for warnings that sunscreens should be reapplied regularly, especially after swimming or sweating.

On Call asked dermatologists around the country what they think of the new guidelines and whether they go far enough.

Not perfect

Dr. Vetter
Christy Parham-Vetter, M.D., M.P.H., in Chanute, Kan., is the only dermatologist in the southeast portion of that state. She says the new guidelines help, but they aren't perfect.

"I had a two-fold reaction," she says. "One, it certainly is an improvement over what we have now. As a person who practices in rural Kansas, which has a huge Armenian community, we see a lot of problems with just basic information about sunscreen. People don't know what the terms mean; they don't know how much they need. They're spending money on things they shouldn't be spending money on, without knowing what value they're getting.

"Rural Kansas is a strong outdoor area," she says. "We're very fiscally conservative and like to know we're getting good value for our money. So although these regulations help, they're not as clear as many dermatologists, including myself, would like them to be."

Better definitions

Dr. Forney
In Atlanta, Rutledge Forney, M.D., also appreciates some of the changes made.

"I'm really glad that they have defined for the industry what 'broad spectrum' means," Dr. Forney says. "We know what SPF means, and you can decide which is the best one for you, but the whole idea of a broad-spectrum and UVA protection has never been defined. My understanding is that they've now said that broad spectrum means that 90 percent of UVA rays are blocked. We've never had a quantifiable definition of UVA protection, so that's the best thing that's come out of this, in my opinion."

Daniel Ladd, D.O., in Austin, Texas, agrees on the importance of the board-spectrum definition.

"I actually think there will benefits because all (that) my patients are focused on is the SPF number," he says. "That only reflects the UVB protection. UVA can cause cancer and premature aging, so I think it's important for patients to start looking for sunscreens that have UVA and UVB protection.

"If the FDA is willing to make it clearer by calling something that contains the appropriate amount of both UVA and UVB protection 'broad spectrum,' I think it's helpful to have a uniform way to make it clear what they're looking for," Dr. Ladd adds.

"Patients like the SPF number because it gives them a sense that they have some control over how much strength their purchasing, but there are studies out there that show that anything above 30 doesn't really do much more, anyway. But it gives them a sense of control and will allow them to have a sense that they are making a choice. If they're going to be out all day in the sun, they will probably pick a larger number," Dr. Ladd says.

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