Summer is almost here and in most parts of the country sunscreen is already being put to good use. With hundreds of products on the market it can be difficult to know which products you can trust to protect your skin. The Environmental Working Group just published a new database with information on effective and deceptive sunscreens. According to the EWG’s 2011 Sunscreen Guide, consumers can trust only about twenty percent of the sunscreens on the market right now. The database has details on whether or not a sunscreen is effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays and if it contains hazardous ingredients. The fifth annual guide is the most comprehensive yet with a review of over 1,700 sun products.
EWG experts say there are no firm federal guidelines governing the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens which is why consumers have only a one in five chance of picking a good sunscreen. The group says the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the proliferation of overstated safety claims, misleading SPF values and the use of phototoxic ingredients. The FDA has been considering strengthening sunscreen labels since 1978 and released a proposal to regulate the industry in 2007. No action has been taken but there is a bill being prepared to introduce into the U.S. Senate called the Sunscreen Labeling Protection Act, or SUN Act. The bill by Senator Jack Reed would give the FDA 180 days to finalize and implement new rules that make sunscreen labels more clear and accurate.
EWG analysts say health experts agree people should use sunscreen but disagree on how well the products work. Studies show frequent sunscreen users have a lower chance of squamous cell carcinoma, a slow growing type of skin cancer. But scientists’ conclusions are mixed on whether sunscreen use can prevent melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Recent studies have come up with different conclusions leading some experts to speculate that free radicals, produced when sunscreen chemicals break down in the sun, may actually contribute to skin damage.
The EWG’s list of best sunscreens all contain the minerals zinc or titanium to help cut UVA exposure. Consumers can also visit the groups Hall of Shame to see a list of popular and well known sunscreen brands that have deceptive labeling or contain controversial ingredients.
The group points out a common mistake sunscreen buyers make. The term SPF refers to ‘sun protection factor’ and refers only to protection against UVB radiation, which burns the skin. It has nothing to do with UVA radiation which penetrates the skin and accelerates damage. High-SPF products allow consumers to stay in the sun longer without burning, but increasing the risk of UVA damage.
One common and controversial ingredient to watch out for is oxybenzone. It’s allowed in sunscreens but is linked to health problems and even cancer. Many other chemicals found in the most popular brands of sunscreen can also seep into your bloodstream, triggering rashes or even altering our hormonal systems.
Remember, chemicals in the sunscreen we use eventually build up in our bodies and the environment! And, since the labels on sunscreen bottles go largely unchecked, it’s critical to Do Your Part and pick the safest sunscreen.
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