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What Every Runner Needs to Know About Sun Safety – Part 3:
September 1, 2016 Lindsey N. Dyn
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor of any kind. I never attended medical school. The information in this article was derived from a variety of resources which can be found in the References at the end of this posting. This article is meant as a vehicle for awareness and is not meant to be interpreted as medical advice.
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With Labor Day upon us, we wave goodbye to warm summer weather and usher in crisp autumn runs, I urge you to still remember to practice good sun safety. In Parts 1 and 2 of Sun Safety Awareness, we discussed the dangers of UV radiation and some of the factors that contribute to UV radiation levels...factors that don't disappear with the changing of the seasons. So what’s a nature-loving runner to do? Today’s blogpost, the final in this year’s sun safety series, focuses on the actions you can take to protect yourself from the damage of UV radiation. And again, some helpful navigation links and a table of abbreviations:
Think About Sun Safety
The UVI is one tool in our arsenal of sun safety; a mechanism of awareness. The next step is action – protect yourself! As soon as the UV Index reaches 3, you should start applying sunscreen. However, I think the majority of the time, when people consider sun safety, they limit themselves to using sunscreen as their only preventative measure. (In the past, guilty as charged.) Other options (well, since we know better now, let’s make them mandatory) include wearing a shirt, hat, and seeking shade. This becomes especially important when the UV Index is above 8.(1) While not related to the UV Index, another factor that can influence your reaction to UV radiation deals with medications and cosmetics. Certain drugs and/or cosmetic products may increase the sensitivity of your skin to the effects of UV radiation.(1) Be sure to read the product labels carefully. Such warnings should be included if your medication/cosmetics induce such reactions.
But speaking of sunscreen…wear it! I can just feel you all rolling your eyes at me now (and possibly internally screaming, “Come on, that’s common sense!”). While it may seem logical, results from a survey of more than 4,000 adults revealed that less than 15% of men, and only approximately 30% of women use sunscreen regularly on both their face and other exposed areas when outside for longer than an hour (3, 4). By this point, you know you need to wear sunscreen. I’ll repeat that…you (Yes! You!) need to wear sunscreen. But what type should you buy? What is ‘Broad Spectrum’ and do you need it? What level of SPF? By the way, what does SPF mean? What should I be looking for when buying sunscreen? In years past, some of the jargon and claims made by sunscreen companies could seem complicated, and in some instances, just inaccurate. As a result, since the summer of 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated that all sunscreens claiming a specified level of protection pass prescribed tests. Prior to the new rules, sunscreen protection focused on UVB protection, often neglecting references to UVA protection. Since UVA radiation is attributed to causing skin cancer (as well as skin aging), the new rules require sunscreen manufacturers claiming ‘Broad Spectrum’ protection to demonstrate that the UVA protection provided is proportional to the UVB protection. Rules regarding terminology such as ‘waterproof’, ‘sweatproof’, and ‘sunblock’ also fall under the umbrella of new requirements.(2)
While government agencies are there to help ensure our safety, you have to take control of your own health, safety, and livelihood. We can’t take the word of sunscreen manufacturers that they are complying with the FDA’s new-ish rules. Case-in-point: just last month, an article appearing in HealthDay News reported that according to research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, “nearly half of the most popular sunscreen products sold in the United States fail to meet basic sun safety guidelines” (5). Where there are rules, there will be rule-breakers. Do your homework and stay informed by reviewing the summary of the FDA’s requirements for over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen products summarized below.(2)
Sources = 1, 2
FDA Requirements for OTC Sunscreens: (1)
Broad Spectrum designation: protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.To advertise such claims, the sunscreen manufacturer must pass the FDA’s broad spectrum test, demonstrating that their sunscreen provides “ultraviolet (UVA) protection that is proportional to their UVB protection”.
Concerning skin cancer: “Only Broad Spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.” (bold and italics added by this author for emphasis)
Concerning sunburn: “Non-Broad Spectrum sunscreens and Broad Spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value between 2 and 14 can claim to help prevent sunburn.”
Claims concerning ‘waterproof’, ‘sweatproof’, or ‘sunblock’: Can NOT be used! Such terminology overstates the effectiveness of the product.
Water resistance claims: Must indicate effective times of water resistance (40 or 80 minutes).If sunscreens are not water resistant, they must “include a direction instructing consumers to use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating”.
Drug Facts: These must be included on the container.
One last note on the FDA requirements, and this one is directed to the ladies. Cosmetics, including moisturizers, with SPF values are also required to conform to these regulations (1). Make sure your favorite make-up company is playing by the rules.
Be wary of sunscreens claiming to provide protection for more than 2 hours without reapplication or those claiming instant protection. From reading the FDA requirements, it appears there may be language allowing such claims, but only after the sunscreen manufacturer submits data and is granted approval from the FDA to use such terms. I’m not sure where one would confirm that such approval was, indeed, granted so do your research beforehand if you decide to go that route.(1)
Choosing the Right Sunscreen and Using It Correctly:
Next time you’re out shopping for sunscreen, select one that includes ALL of the following:
Broad Spectrum (UVA, UVB protection) is a must. (2, 6)
SPF of at least 30. According to FDA guidelines, an SPF of 15 or higher is prescribed.However, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 30 or higher. Do what you like, but I’m going to put my faith in years of medical school and practical experience and go with the doctors. (2, 7)
Choose lotion over spray. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the FDA’s sunscreen regulations “on testing and standardization do not pertain to spray sunscreens” (7). While convenient, other downfalls of spray applications include possible hazards from inhalation and the guessing game of whether you’ve applied enough for adequate coverage.(7) We’ve all seen a few instances of red and white zebra striping. Don’t be that guy.
Apply sunscreen early and in the proper amounts. The timing matters. Shoot to apply approximately 15-20 minutes prior to going outside. The correct amount of sunscreen is about the equivalent of a full shot glass. (6, 7)
Reapply! Just remembering to apply sunscreen will not cut it!The one-and-done mentality will not do you any favors - that sunscreen will not stay on you forever. (A bummer, I know.) Reapply approximately every 2 hours.This timeline may need to be moved up if you’re swimming or sweating quite a bit. (2, 6)
Interactive Sunscreen Selection Tool
Final Take-Home Sun Safety Tips:
Avoid direct sunlight between 10 AM and 2 PM. (2)
Cover up. Wear appropriate clothing (shirts, hats, rash-guards, etc.) to protect yourself, especially on high UV Index days. (1, 2)
Remember, you can still get burned on cloudy days. I know we all tend to forget this, but the harmful UV rays associated with skin burns and cancer still stealthily lurk on these days, too. (1)
Wear sunscreen! I feel like I’m beating a dead horse but seriously, take the advice of Baz Luhrmann, the guy who sang (let’s be honest, more like spoke) the famous late-90’s song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. He had a lot of good advice; feel free to take it or leave it, but please…he was right about the sunscreen.
Choose sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. (6)
Lastly, I love illustrations and animations to drive a point home. As this amount of tech savvy is beyond my humble capabilities, check out the video “What is the best way to prevent and detect melanoma?”, an informative and creative video created by Dr. Mike Evans, highlighting sun safety tips and skin cancer statistics.
Hopefully now you’re just a little bit wiser about how to protect yourself from the summer (winter, spring, and fall) sun. Be smart, stay safe, and until next time, happy running…
1.) World Health Organization. Global Solar UV Index: A Practical Guide. 2002.
2.) U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Questions and Answers: FDA Announces New Requirements for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Sunscreen Products Marketed in the U.S. 2011. http://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/understandingover-the-countermedicines/ucm258468.htm accessed 7/19/2016.
3.) Holman, D.M., Berkowitz, Z. Guy Jr, G.P., Hawkins, N.A., Saraiya, M., Watson, M. Patterns of Sunscreen Use on the Face and Other Exposed Skin Among US Adults, J Am Acad Dermatol. July 2015; 73(1): 83-92.e1. DOI 10.1016/j.jaad.2015.02.1112.
4.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sunscreen Use Among Adults in the United States. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/articles/sunscreen-use.htm accessed 7/19/2016.
5.) HealthDay. 2016. https://healthfinder.gov/News/Article.aspx?id=712643&_ga=1.198049447.963560960.1472413950 accessed 7/19/2016.
6.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler’s Health: Sun Exposure, http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/sun-exposure accessed 7/19/2016.
7.) American Academy of Dermatology. Sunscreen FAQs. https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs accessed 7/19/2016.