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Dr. Grant-Kels on WTIC Radio’s "Face Connecticut" June 19, 2011


As reported by The Hartford Courant, June 15, 2011.

Connecticut Doctors Welcome New FDA Regulations on Sunscreen

Changes Will Give Consumers More Information, Dermatologists Say

By William Weir

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on what claims sunscreen manufacturers may make about their products — a change that Connecticut skin experts say is welcome.

"I specialize in skin cancer and it's the No. 1 question I get: What sunscreen should I use?" said Dr. David J. Leffell, a professor and chief of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at Yale School of Medicine. "This gives us a chance to have a discussion and really clarify things."

Now that more is known about the dangers of the sun's rays and their link to skin cancer, the FDA this week updated its regulations on sunscreen claims. The goal is to help consumers choose among the many variations of sunscreens on the market. The new regulations go into effect in 2012.

Current regulations govern ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, but not ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. The new regulations will change that. Only products that protect against both UVB and UVA rays will be allowed to be labeled as "broad spectrum."

While UVA rays have long been known to be a cause of wrinkles, it's only in the past few years that they have been definitively linked to skin cancer, Leffell said.

Dr. Jane Grant-Kels, a professor and chairwoman of the department of dermatology at the University of Connecticut Health Center, said the changes were a long time coming. Patients she talks to often are confounded by all the choices of sunscreen.

"Many don't know what SPF means," she said, adding that "sun protection factor" refers only to UVB rays. UVB rays cause sunburn and do more damage in the short-term, she said, but UVA rays can also cause cancer over time and are especially dangerous to people who are very sensitive to sunlight.

Another change is that the maximum SPF values will be marked as "50+" because no research has shown that an SPF stronger than 50 is significantly more effective.

"As you go higher than 50, the difference is pretty minimal," Grant-Kels said.

Because there's no evidence that any sunscreens are waterproof or sweatproof, the FDA will prohibit companies from making those claims. At most, they can claim to provide protection for up to two hours before reapplication is necessary. And because no sunscreen completely blocks out the sun's rays, the term "sun block" will also be prohibited.

Although the changes don't take effect until next year, Leffell said consumers can educate themselves now. To make sure that a sunscreen protects against UVA rays as well as UVB rays, he said, check the container for the ingredients avobenzone and zinc oxide.