Sun Screen

Jun 4, 2012

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

My son Eric said I should write an article about how his sister Emily is always bad. You know Dad. You should say how she never listens. This is from a kid who I found this morning stabbing his glass at the breakfast table a la Norman Bates from Psycho. After I excitedly asked him to stop these odd actions, I had a look in his glass. Eric had put some juice in a plastic glass last night and put it into the freezer to make a popsicle. He just forgot to put in a stick. So, Eric thought hed jam his knife into his frozen mass of juice at the breakfast table to form a popsicle handle. The idea was good, but the execution was poor. This is what the beginning of summer looks like in our house, what about yours? Are you trying to slather up the kids with sunscreen and shoe them out the door to school or daycare?


We use sunscreen to protect our skin from too much sun. Too much sun can damage your skin. And that damage can add up. Sun exposure can lead to serious problems like skin cancer.


The sun emits radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to X-rays. The part of the spectrum we are interested in for skin damage are the Ultra-violet wavelengths. There are 2 types of UV radiation we talk about with skin damage, UVA and UVB. Sun burn is most often caused by UVB. UVA & UVB can both cause premature skin aging, and skin cancer.


Sun exposure is a factor in the development of three types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is caused by the exposure to UV radiation and is the most common type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma often affects fair-skinned people with blond or red hair who sun burn easily. Basal cell carcinoma is usually very easy to treat. Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, is caused by repeated exposure to the sun over a long period of time. It can be very successfully treated if it is identified early. Malignant melanoma is a less common skin cancer. We believe sun exposure is one of its causes. If malignant melanoma is found early, it has a high cure rate. However, if it is not caught early, it can spread to the blood stream and in the worst cases, it can cause death. If sunscreen is used properly, it has been shown to reduce the number of cases of squamous cell carcinoma, and it may help reduce the risk of malignant melanoma. There is debate about how well sun screens protect against basal cell carcinoma.


The Food and Drug Administration in the US is going to require changes in the labeling of sunscreens on June 18, 2012. It is believed Health Canada will follow suit in the near future. In the US sunscreens will no longer be labeled Sunblock, and they cant claim immediate protection upon application. The FDA thinks sunblock implies too much protection. If the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB and has an SPF of 15 or greater, it can be labelled as Broad Spectrum. The FDA also wont allow a sunscreen to claim an SPF of greater than 50 as they feel there is no evidence that numbers above 50 have any real meaning. Sunscreens wont be able to say they are water proof or sweat proof. The will only be able to say they are water resistant. The label must state how long they are water resistant for. The two labeling options will be water resistant for 40 minutes or water resistant for 80 minutes.


Sunscreen shouldnt be the only defense used to prevent skin cancer. Here are some practical suggestions.

  • Avoid the sun when it is most intense. These are between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.

  • Seek the shade when you are outside for a long period of time

  • Wear a hat with a wide brim and long-sleeved shirt.

Freezies, popsicles and drumsticks should be part of every kids summer plans. So should waterguns, sprinklers and bike rides. Eric if you are listening, I think your homemade popsicle was a valiant attempt at a summer treat. Im not going to do an article about how bad your sister is because, I think you and your sister pretty evenly divide the mischief making in our house. And, Eric, put the popsicle stick in the juice BEFORE you freeze it. It works much better that way.


As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.


The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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FDA Sunscreen labeling rules:



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