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What to look for in a sunscreen.

For years, the FDA has not fully regulated the claims made by makers of sunscreens and sunblocks.  Many consumers are confused about the effectiveness of sunblock. Yet for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts sunscreens are a vital health care product. What does “water-proof” really mean?  What really constitutes “UVA” or “broad spectrum” protection?  Just because a sunblock protects you from sunburn, does it really protect you from the long-term and potentially deadly dangers of sun exposure? 

I have spent much of my career working to develop truly effective sunblocks that actually perform to the levels of their claims.  First with Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena, and now with my own company, Outside Labs, which makes sunblock under the brand names K2 Suncare ( and Hawaiian Island Creations (HIC) Suncare (  I am passionate about truly effective suncare because I know the horrifying statistics of skin cancer and skin damage all too well.

•1.3 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the US every year – more than all other cancers combined!
•1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her life
•90% of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure
•80% reduction in the risk of skin cancer through regular use of sun protection

Here are a few things that a consumer should look for when purchasing a sunblock:

1.UVA Protection:  Many sunblocks provide adequate UVB protection, and prevent sunburn.  But until recently, good UVA protection was less common in a sunblock.  The scary part is, if you’re not getting adequate UVA protection, you may not know it until 10-20 years later when the potentially deadly damage has already been done.  One of the most commonly used UVA shields is Avobenzone, also known as Parsol 1789.  3% is the maximum allowable percentage, and the higher the percentage, the longer the protection will last.  Avobenzone is not very stable and loses it’s efficacy over time, requiring re-application.  Certain ingredients (like Octocrylene) can improve the stability of Avobenzone, while other ingredients may decrease the stability (such as Octinoxate).

2.Waterproofing & Sweatproofing:  The FDA regulates sunblocks as over the counter (OTC) drugs and has designed a test to substantiate the “waterproof” claim that manufacturers make on their packages and in their advertising.  The FDA test simply involves 20 people sitting in a pool for only 80 minutes!  In many cases, a sunblock screams “waterproof” and or “sweatproof” on the front of the package, and yet on the back of the package informs users they can “remove by rinsing with water” – that doesn’t sound very waterproof to me!  In my opinion, a truly waterproof sunblock should stand up to extended exposure to salt water, heavy sweating and even removal of wetsuits -- not just to lounging near the back yard swimming pool.  The product should not run into your eyes when you sweat or get wet, and should not require re-application every time you get out of the water.  And a truly waterproof sunblock should require soap and water to remove.

3.Application:  Many people mis-apply sunblock and suffer the consequences.  Sunblock should be put on 5 to 10 minutes before you go into the water or engage in activities that heat up your body and cause you to sweat.  This will allow it to bond better with your skin and stay on through these activities.  When you see someone come out of the pool and put sunblock on their wet body and jump back in, the likely result is that they are just putting sunblock in the pool.  For best results, you should fully dry your body before re-applying sunblock, and again allow 5-10 minutes before getting wet.

Before I end a few words on what makes Hawaiian Island Creations (HIC) a great product for athletes. The technology in HIC 2X Sunblock has been engineered to provide athletes with superior UVA protection and sweat- and waterproofing. High tech polymers bond to your skin creating endurance sweat- & waterproofing. The polymer structure is 100% breathable and does not interfere with the natural perspiration of the skin, the natural cooling mechanism of any athlete’s body. Four prescription grade sunscreens provide long lasting UVA + UVB protection. Clinical testing has shown that our product provide two times the UVA protection compared to the leading sports sunblock in the US. For more information go to

I hope this information helps you to make better decisions and be better protected in the sun.

Dr. Nicolas Martens
Ph.D. Chemist - Cambridge University
Founder - Outside Labs

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