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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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September 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 39, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Your High-SPF Sunscreen May Not Be So Great After All

from the September, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Over the years, too many of my fellow divers have been diagnosed with melanoma. So, my friends, if you're headed to the tropics to go diving, sunscreen is a must. Sunscreen labels have new information designed to make the products more effective and easier to use. But despite these changes, many sunscreens continue to carry sun protection factor (SPF) ratings that some experts consider misleading and potentially dangerous.

New rules from the Food and Drug Administration ban terms like "waterproof," and require that sunscreens filter out both ultraviolet A and B rays. Still, one in seven products boasts SPF ratings above 50, which have long been viewed with skepticism. Many consumers assume that SPF 100 is twice as effective as SPF 50, but dermatologists say the difference between the two is actually negligible. Where an SPF 50 product might protect against 97 percent of sunburn-causing rays, an SPF 100 product might block 98.5 percent of those rays. "The high SPF numbers are just a gimmick," Marianne Berwick, professor of epidemiology at the University of New Mexico, told Fox News. "Most people really don't need more than an SPF 30, and they should reapply it every couple of hours." She says sunscreen should be used in combination with hats, clothing and shade, which provide better protection against ultraviolet radiation.

Consumer Reports recently did a review of sunscreens based on SPF and UV protection, and selected as its one "Best Buy" product Equate Ultra Protection Sunscreen SPF 50. Five more products got marked as "Recommend": UP & UP Sport SPF 50; Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50; Walgreens Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50; Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch 30; and Coppertone Sport High Performance SPF 30). Two zinc oxide-based products, Badger and All Terrain, pretty much failed. If you're headed to the tropics, stick to the proven performers.

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