Please address the issue of the Skin Cancer Foundation sunscreen "Seal of Approval." Their recommendations do not always coincide with yours, and an explanation from you would be appreciated. Their Web site is www.skincancer.org.
Kathie, via email
Great question. The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) is an organization dedicated to spreading awareness of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure, as well as offering advice on choosing sunscreens and tips on sun avoidance. Their educational campaigns about the hazards of unprotected sun exposure are commendable. Companies that market sunscreens (as well as other UV-protective items such as sunglasses and clothing) may submit them to SCF if they wish to be considered for their Seal of Approval. The seal, however, is not overseen or required by any regulatory agency; the determination of whether a product should receive a seal or not is based solely on SCF criteria, and I believe a preponderance of research proves that the SCF rating system is completely inadequate and antiquated. Here's why: In order to be issued the SCF Seal of Approval, a company's sunscreen must meet the following criteria (Source: skincancer.org):
- Sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater
- Validation of the SPF number by testing on 20 people
- Acceptable test results for phototoxic reactions and contact irritation
- Substantiation for any claims that a sunscreen is water- or sweat-resistant
One vital and crucial criterion that is missing from the above list (and the reason why my sunscreen recommendations differ from those of the SCF) is the need for sufficient UVA protection. Adequate UVA protection is possible only if a sunscreen contains one of the following active ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone. Yet nowhere on the SCF Web site is the importance of using sunscreens with one of these three UVA-protecting ingredients mentioned. Such an omission is surprising given the organization's crusade for sun protection, but as of this writing that's where things stand. And that's the reason why I do not recommend that consumers use the SCF Seal of Approval as an indicator of a sunscreen's effectiveness.
It is also crucial to keep in mind that a sunscreen's SPF rating refers only to its ability to protect skin from UVB radiation, the rays that cause sunburn. Because we know that UVA damage can be even more insidious, it is essential for the health of your skin that you use a sunscreen that contains the UVA-protecting ingredients of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and/or avobenzone (Sources: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, October 2005, page 840; British Journal of Dermatology, December 2005, pages 6–12; Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, June 2005, pages 197–207; and Mutation Research, April 2005, pages 175–184).
Source: Paula Begoun