EarthTalk: With summer officially here now,
what can you tell us about which sunscreens are safe and
which are not? -- Clara Rosen, New York, NY
to the Environmental Working Group, which assessed
the safety and effectiveness of more than 1,400
sunscreens for its 2014 Guide to Sunscreens, only
one in three sunscreens for sale on the shelves
of American stores offer good skin protection and
are free of ingredients with links to health problems.
credit: Bruce A. Stockwell, Courtesy Flickr
cancer is by far the most common form of cancer in the United
States, with more new cases each year than breast, prostate,
lung and colon cancers combined. And the rate of newly diagnosed
cases of the most deadly skin cancer, melanoma, has tripled
over the last three decades. But many of the sunscreens
on the market do not provide enough protection from the
sun’s damaging rays. Also, some of them contain chemicals
that can also cause health problems in their own right.
to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), which
assessed the safety and effectiveness of more than 1,400
“SPF” (sun protection factor) products for its
2014 Guide to Sunscreens, only one in three sunscreens for
sale on the shelves of American stores offer good skin protection
and are free of ingredients with links to health issues.
“That means two-thirds of the sunscreens in our analysis
don’t work well enough or contain ingredients that
may be toxic,” reports the group.
big part of the problem is the lack of tougher rules from
the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). “The
FDA’s first major set of sunscreen regulations, 36
years in the making, took effect in December 2012 and proved
far too weak to transform the market,” reports EWG.
While the new rules did restrict some of the most egregious
claims on sunscreen labels (such as the “patently
false” ‘waterproof’ and ‘sweatproof’
claims) and ended the sale of powder sunscreens and towelettes
that were too thin to provide protection against ultraviolet
rays, they didn’t address inhalation threats from
spray sunscreens or take into account the risks of exposure
to so-called “nanoparticles” from zinc oxide
and titanium dioxide varieties.
the FDA is currently reassessing its stance on sunscreens,
EWG warns it may be a while before new rules address these
and other concerns, especially given push-back from regulatory-averse
members of Congress and some manufacturers. So what’s
a health-conscious sun worshipper to do about sunscreen?
starters, read labels. Some common sunscreen ingredients
to watch out for and avoid include: oxybenzone, which can
cause allergic reactions and hormone-like effects; Vitamin
A (AKA retinyl palmitate), a skin irritant and possible
carcinogen; and fragrances which can contain allergens and
chemicals. Also, spray sunscreens are suspect because inhaling
some of the ingredients can irritate breathing passages
and even potentially compromise lung function. And EWG warns
to avoid products with SPF ratings higher than 50, as their
use can tempt people to apply too little and/or stay in
the sun too long. Sticking with products in the 15-50 SPF
range and reapplying often makes much more sense.
of the best choices are those sunscreens that employ either
zinc oxide or avobenzone, both which have been shown to
block the most damaging ultraviolet rays effectively without
the need for other potentially troublesome additives. Some
of the leading brands that meet EWG’s criteria for
both safety and effectiveness include Absolutely Natural,
Aubrey Organics, California Baby, Elemental Herbs, Goddess
Garden, Tropical Sands and True Natural, among others. Find
these and other winners on the shelves of natural foods
retailers as well as online. For a complete list of all
172 recommended sunscreens and to learn more about the risks,
check out EWG’s free online 2014 Guide to Sunscreens.
EWG’S 2014 Guide to Sunscreens, www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen
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