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Expert Group Charges that New Sunscreen SPF Labels Are Still Misleading

Update Date: May 20, 2013 09:52 AM EDT

This upcoming weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, marks the beginning of summer celebrations for many people around the country. That can often mean spending increased time outdoors in order to take advantage of the warm weather. Though many will take note of the new changes to the look of new sunscreen levels, one group of experts asserts that there are still problems with the SPF system.

According to the Associated Press, the Environmental Working Group performed a study with 1,400 sunscreens that are on store shelves now. They acknowledge that sunscreens can no longer be labeled "waterproof", which many experts believed was misleading. Sunscreens also must filter out ultraviolet A, which filter out the rays that cause cancer and sunscreen, as well as ultraviolet B rays, which cause most sunburns; in the past, sunscreens only needed to filter out UVB rays. However, they still take significant issue with the high SPF numbers that some sunscreen labels sport.

Many consumers believe that, if they buy SPF 100, the protection is twice as effective as that of SPF 50. That belief causes many consumers to remain in the sun long after the barrier stops working. However, that is not true; experts say that, while SPF 50 may be 97 percent effective at filtering out rays, SPF 50 is 98.7 percent effective. Because of the lack of significant difference, many experts wanted to ban the use of SPF over 50, but the Food and Drug Administration received pushback from companies like Johnson and Johnson, who charge that high SPF numbers do have some benefit. For most people, experts say that SPF 30 is enough to derive a strong enough benefit, though it is important to remember to reapply.

In fact, though many people believe that SPF exposure pertains to how long a person can stay in the sun, that depends on various factors like time of day and geography. SPF numbers actually are linked to the possibility of sunburn compared to uncovered skin; SPF 15, for example, means that a person is able to stay in the sun 15 times longer than they would if they were uncovered.

Many experts are also suspicious of sunscreen sprays and powders. However, since they account for 25 percent of the market now, the FDA is still looking into their efficacy. Some experts think that they are great because they are so convenient, but warn that consumers generally need to put on two coats in order to receive the same amount of coverage as with a cream.

"Our goal is to help consumers to make informed decisions, and use sunscreen as an important part of an overall safe sun regimen," Farah Ahmed, the chair of the Personal Care Products Council, Sunscreen Committee, said in a statement in response to the group's report. "Sunscreen is a crucial step in the fight against skin cancer and premature skin aging. Our hope is that sun protection will become as much of a habit as putting on your seatbelt."

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