7 Tips for Buying the Best Sunscreen
EWG (Environmental Working Group) estimates that more than half of the sunscreens on the American market would not make it to store shelves in Europe. Here are 7 little known facts about sunscreen to ensure you are getting the safest,most relaible protection.
1. Don’t be fooled by high SPF
The federal Food and Drug Administration says that SPF benefits max out at 50+ and wants to bar higher numbers, as the European Commission, Japan and Australia have done, calling higher SPF values “inherently misleading,” but its proposed regulation, under fire from sunscreen manufacturers, has been stuck in bureaucratic limbo since 2007. High-SPF products tempt people to apply too little sunscreen and stay in the sun too long. Twelve percent of sunscreens evaluated this year advertise SPF values greater than 50+.
2. The common sunscreen additive vitamin A may speed development of skin cancer.
The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A to 19 percent of beach and sport sunscreens, 17 percent of moisturizers with SPF and 13 percent of lip products in this year’s database.
Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging. But studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. Other governments warn that cosmetics may expose people to unsafe amounts of vitamin A They recommend against using vitamin-A-laden cosmetics on the lips and over large portions of the body. EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions that contain vitamin A, also called retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol.
3. European sunscreens provide better UVA protection.
In Europe, sunscreen makers can formulate their products with any of seven chemicals that filter UVA rays. American manufacturers can use only three UVA-filtering ingredients. They have been waiting for years for FDA approval to use sunscreen ingredients widely available in Europe. The FDA has asked the makers of European sunscreen chemicals for more safety data, but until the FDA approves these ingredients and lifts restrictions on combining certain active ingredients, American consumers will be hard-pressed to find sunscreens with the strongest UVA protection.
4. Sunscreen doesn’t protect skin from all types of sun damage.
The sun’s ultraviolet radiation generates free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer. American sunscreens can reduce these damages, but not as effectively as they prevent sunburn. People can run into problems if they pick a sunscreen with poor UVA protection, apply too little or reapply it infrequently. The FDA should strengthen its regulations to ensure that sunscreens offer better protection from skin damage.
5. Some sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies.
There is no perfect sunscreen. Americans must choose between “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone system, and “mineral” sunscreens, made with zinc and titanium, often “micronized” or made up of nanoparticles. New evidence suggests that FDA should consider the hazards posed by inactive sunscreen ingredients that may trigger allergies.
6. Mineral sunscreens contain nano-particles.
Most zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens contain nanoparticles one-twentieth the width of a human hair, to reduce or eliminate the chalky white tint that larger particles leave on the skin. Based on the available information, EWG gives a favorable rating to mineral sunscreens, but the FDA should restrict the use of unstable or UV-reactive forms of minerals that would lessen skin protection.
7. If you avoid sun, check your vitamin D levels.
Sunshine causes the body to produce vitamin D, a critical function that sunscreen appears to inhibit. Vitamin D, technically a hormone, strengthens bones and the immune system and reduces risks of breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancers and perhaps other disorders.
About 25 percent of Americans have borderline low levels of vitamin D, and eight percent have a serious deficiency. Breast-fed infants, people with darker skin and people who have limited sun exposure are at greatest risk for vitamin D deficiency. Many people can’t or shouldn’t rely on the sun for vitamin D. Check with your doctor to find out whether you should get a vitamin D test or take seasonal or year-round supplements.
EWG’s Sunscreen Guide for 2015 finds persistent problems with the ingredients and marketing of sunscreens for the American market. Fully 80 percent of 1,700 products we examined this year offer inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone and vitamin A.