Safe Sunscreen Protection this Summer

By none

Choosing a safe and effective sunscreen vitamin D titanium dioxide sunscreen lotion spf 30 spf EWG wrinkles sunAs the weather gets warmer and days grow longer, we rely on sunscreens to protect us from the harmful UV rays during our outdoor summer activities. However, a new report from Environmental Working Group (EWG) on sunscreens suggests that many sunscreens in the U.S. may not be providing the sun protection we need.

Generally speaking, sunscreen can be divided into two categories – chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens use substances like PABA and oxybenzone as their main medicinal ingredient, while mineral sunscreens commonly use zinc and titanium as their main protective ingredients. Chemical sunscreens are reported to be less stable than the mineral ones, causing the potentially dangerous chemicals to be absorbed and disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance.

Choose a sunscreen that has the label “broad-spectrum” protection that includes both UVA and UVB protection. At the moment, there is no FDA-approved system that labels the effectiveness of UVA protection in sunscreens sold in America; the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) levels in sunscreens only reflect protection from UVB rays. EWG found that high SPF products often provided poor UVA protection.

Recently, many companies started offering sunscreens with higher SPF content; but higher SPF content does not equal more protection. EWG report cites a study which found that people using high SPF sunscreens (sunscreens with SPF 50 or higher) typically extended their exposure to the sun by 19-25 per cent than those who used low to average SPF sunscreens. This in turn nullified the effectiveness of a high-SPF sunscreen. Sunscreens with high SPF content also have a higher concentration of chemicals, providing higher opportunities for potential allergies and toxicity.
A sunscreen’s SPF level is determined by controlled tests that examine how long it takes the volunteer’s skin to burn after applying sunscreen. However, the EWG found the amount of sunscreen that people apply to their skin in real life is about 80 per cent less than the amount of sunscreen the labs use to test for SPF levels. This means that consumers only get about 20% of the advertised SPF level on sunscreen bottles.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends one ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) should be used in all exposed skin area. Sunscreen should be applied to dry skin 15 to 20 minutes prior to sun exposure; it should be reapplied every 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating heavily. The AAD finds that even many “water-resistant” sunscreens can be wiped off after 40 minutes in the water.

The EWG’s database on sunscreens will also help find the safest and the most effective sunscreens in the market. But ultimately, your sun protection cannot come from sunscreens alone. For effective protection from UVA/UVB rays, control your sun exposure time and invest in layers for natural sun protection. Just because sunscreen provides temporary protection from the harmful UV rays does not mean you should be staying out in the sun longer. Make sure to avoid direct sun exposure during noon and 4pm – a period with the highest UVA/UVB exposure. The EWG also found that covering the skin with clothing and hats also prevented contact with UVA and UVB radiation by 52 per cent.  Sending your child out with a hat to the sun may be a safer alternative than buying a sunscreen with higher SPF content.

Harmful sunscreen ingredients to avoid

Oxybenzone (can appear as Benzophenone-3): EWG reports that this ingredient is present in 60% of the sunscreen products in America. It has a high absorption rate (oxybenzone is present in urine of 96% of Americans) This chemical produces potentially worrisome reproductive effects including decreased weight in girls and increased weight in boys, as well as being a photo-allergen (inducing allergic reactions when exposed to the sun). Many studies find that oxybenzone may present high risk factors for children, because children’s skin may absorb the chemical more quickly than adults’.

Retinyl palmitate – A derivative of vitamin A, this ingredient was identified by a recent study by FDA as a potential photocarcinogen – a substance that may quicken the spread of some skin cancers when applied under the sun.

Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC): this chemical is present in 40% of sunscreens sold in America. It may cause thyroid hormone reductions, and disturb the body’s hormonal balance.

Further reading

The Bottom Line on Sunscreens: Report by Environmental Working Group (

American Academy of Dermatologists: Facts about Sunscreens (

By none| June 18, 2010
Categories:  Eat

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