FDA fights sun-damaged skin

July 11, 2011

The most common problem with sunscreen lotions is that we fail to use enough of them.
The most common problem with sunscreen lotions is that we fail to use enough of them.

In the era of the Marlboro Man, “Get a quick tan with Coppertone,” was a popular ad. Summers were devoted to browning in the sun like a roast pig on a spit, and the darker you got, the more your social status rose. Now we know that UVB rays cause burning, UVA rays cause wrinkling and both cause cancer.

After 33 years of consideration, the FDA has just decreed that sunscreens must protect equally against both kinds of radiation (UVA and UVB). The term broad spectrum designates a product that protects against UVA and UVB rays. In the past there were sunscreens that provided UVB coverage, but not UVA.

And only sunscreens that have a sun protection factor (SPF), of 15 or higher will be allowed to claim that they help prevent sunburn and reduce the risks of skin cancer and early skin aging. SPF indicates the amount of sun exposure needed to cause sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin compared with unprotected skin. For example, an SPF of 30 means it would take you 30 times longer to burn wearing sunscreen than with exposed skin.

In a race for sales, manufacturers are still trying to hit SPF ratings to the moon. Sunscreen is available in SPFs of 70, 80, 90 and 100 although these higher ratings provide little more protection than an SPF of 50. Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s drug center told the New York Times, June 14, 2011, “Right now, we don’t have any data to show that anything above 50 adds any value for anybody.”

The FDA has also banned manufacturers from advertising sunscreens as waterproof or sweatproof. Instead, manufacturers will be allowed to state, depending on test results, for how many minutes these products are water resistant.

No regulations can address the most common problem with sunscreens lotions: consumers fail to use enough. Regardless of SPF, sunscreens should be re-applied at least every 2 hours.

If you have facial sun damage, you might be a good candidate for skin resurfacing, including chemical peels, dermabrasion and laser resurfacing. A board-certified plastic surgeon understands the many variables associated with skin damage and can help you select the best treatment. 


The mission of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASAPS, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to www.surgery.org

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About ASAPS
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), is recognized as the world’s leading organization devoted entirely to aesthetic plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine of the face and body.  ASAPS is comprised of over 2,600 Plastic Surgeons; active members are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (USA) or by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures. International active members are certified by equivalent boards of their respective countries. All members worldwide adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and must meet stringent membership requirements.

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