Buying sunscreen doesn't seem like it's that complicated. The higher the number, the better the protection, right? But doctors say, those numbers on the bottle might not be giving you the whole story when it comes to safety.
"I just didn't think it would happen to me," said Trish Whitty, 31. "I just didn't think I would have a problem with it because I did use sunscreen."
Whitty said SPF 30 is her choice when it comes to sunscreen. She uses it everytime she's out in the sun. So why then did doctors find a cancerous mole on her neck last month?
"Skin cancer is something that I feel older women in their 40s and 50s get it, not in their 30s, especially early 30s."
"It's occuring in younger and younger age groups," said dermatologist Dr. Eric Finzi.
One reason could be that the SPF numbers on sunscreen only refer to UVB rays, Finzi said. That number doesn't measure how well the sunscreen blocks UVA rays, which are linked to skin cancer and aging.
"I've had people who bring in sunscreens to me that was SPF 60 and I thought, that's great," Finzi said. "But then I looked at it and it wasn't going to block UVA. So it's a little bit of false sense of security."
The Food and Drug Administration was supposed to announce new regulations this summer that would force sunscreen manufacturers to label their products with two numbers, one for UVA and the other for UVB. But it will probably take at least another year before anything is set, FDA officials said.
"We have the technology," Finzi said. "There's other countries around the world that do already have a labeling system. Why can't we do it?"
In the mean time, it's best to read the label closely when buying sunscreen, Finzi said. Look for products that have "broad spectrum protection" or contain ingredients like titanium, zinc, avobenzone and oxybenzone. Those chemicals provide UVA protection.
"I think it would be fantastic if there was a lot less guess work," Finzi said.
"Shocking because it's in the U.S. and I would think we would be on the forefront of action," Whitty said. "I would think that the companies would be more proactive and the products would be what they say they are."
Dr. Eric Finzi did stress that it's always important to wear some type sunscreen. That's always better than wearing none at all.
Finzi is offering free skin cancer screenings for the public:
Monday, May 11 from 1:30 - 3:30pm
Thursday, May 21 from 10am to 12 noon
People who are interested must call 240-482-2555 for an appointment.
His office is located at:
8401 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 210,
Chevy Chase, Maryland