published Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Fighting sun damage

by Chris Carroll
Anna Whitten, Shawna Stille, Anita Stille, Haley Hall and Dakota Stille, from left, apply sunscreen as they prepare to swim at the Chickamauga Dam recreation area Tuesday.
Anna Whitten, Shawna Stille, Anita Stille, Haley Hall and Dakota Stille, from left, apply sunscreen as they prepare to swim at the Chickamauga Dam recreation area Tuesday.
Photo by John Rawlston.


* Apply SPF 15 or higher sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every two hours — even on cloudier days — and after swimming or sweating.

* Examine your skin once a month. Early detection of melanoma can save your life.

* Visit your dermatologist if you see a strange mole, a scaly patch or a sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Formerly among the most popular summer buzzwords, “waterproof,” “sunblock” and “sweatproof” soon will be off-limits for American sunscreen manufacturers.

The Food and Drug Administration deemed all three claims false — nothing blocks the sun and humans sweat off sunscreen, the agency concluded. Other regulations will restrict the semantics and advertising of the $680 million national market for sunscreens.

The regulations will be enforced next year, FDA documents show.

“I don’t think we’ve overstepped anything from a claim perspective,” said Robert Long, chief financial officer for Chattem, which produces Bullfrog Sunblock.

On Bullfrog’s website, the company characterizes its product as “long regarded as the ultimate waterproof sunblock by savvy people everywhere.”

“We will revisit our label claims and be in compliance,” Long said.

While local dermatologists and oncologists are happy about the changes, they continue to fight the battle the FDA cannot win on its own — sun lovers who don’t use enough sunscreen, or who don’t reapply it.

Dr. Karin Covi, a dermatologist who practices with Dr. Rodney Susong, said she shies away from nagging and scare tactics because the “evidence that’s out there” speaks for itself.

“My angle is vanity in a young woman,” she said. “I tell them I want them to go to the beach this time and I want [them] to look at the chest and the faces of 50-year-old women.”

Covi cited research that shows melanoma cases are increasing faster than any other cancer worldwide, but survival rates also are rising because of early detection.

The new FDA regulations are sweeping, yet they leave a few questions unanswered.

The FDA said sunscreens must combat both kinds of cancer-causing sun radiation — UVB and UVA rays — to be labeled “broad spectrum” protection.

Sunscreens with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 and higher will be allowed to advertise sunburn protection, along with claims that skin cancer and skin leathering are reduced.

Anything below 15? No more. Any product with an SPF between 2 and 14 must warn potential buyers that the product hasn’t been shown to help curb early skin aging or skin cancer.

But the FDA admitted indecision on how to deal with sunscreen-on-steroids — brands with SPF levels above 50.

“In a science lab it might be true that SPF 50 exists, but in practicality anything above an SPF 30 ... is not worth spending more for,” Covi said.

Dr. Stephen Golder, medical director of the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center at Parkridge Medical Center, said manageable treatment options are available for early forms of skin cancer.

Still, he sees “sores that don’t heal, lumps that will break open and bleed,” along with melanoma that spreads to the lymph nodes. He warns his patients against “subjecting yourself to unnecessary radiation” so they can avoid “a pretty hefty piece of surgery.”

“There’s all this stuff you read about people being overdosed by having too many CT scans or the dose they get from a mammogram,” Golder said. “But then they go right out into the sun and do the same thing themselves.”

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