Most Sunscreens Don't Measure Up, Report Says

SunscreensJust 20% of beach and sport sunscreens can be trusted to provide the protection they claim, an environmental advocacy group has found.

The nonprofit Environment Working Group recently released its fifth annual Skin Deep Sunscreens report, which examined more than 1,700 sunblocks, lip balms, moisturizers and make-up products that list a sun protection factor -- more commonly known as an SPF -- on its packaging.

To determine the rankings, the EWG looked at five factors, including potential health hazards of listed ingredients; UVB protection; UVA protection; the balance of UVA and UVB protection; and the sunscreens stability, or how quickly the ingredients break down in the sun. The group then ranked the sunscreens from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best.In the past, the EWG report has been criticized by leading dermatologists who have disputed some of the group's claims, including the EWG dinging the use of a vitamin A derivative and other ingredients. The EWG pointed to a federal study -- the results of which weren't definitive -- that showed a form of vitamin A, when applied to the skin and exposed to sunlight, could actually speed the growth of skin tumors.

The EWG currently has a petition drive under way that calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implement sunscreen regulations and govern label claims. The group is collecting signatures through June 9.

"FDA neglect has allowed the proliferation of overstated safety claims, misleading SPF values and the use of phototoxic ingredients," EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder said in a statement. "Without firm guidelines, consumers only have a 1 in 5 chance of picking a safe and effective sunscreen from store shelves."

In the EWG's 2011 sunscreen report, all of the top-rated sunscreens contained either the minerals zinc or titanium -- these offer some of the best natural protection by literally blocking the sun. (If you had to slather white lotion on your nose as a kid, it was most likely a zinc oxide sunscreen.) Sunscreens ranking lower in the report included vitamin A and other chemicals like oxybenzone, both of which the EWG claim could disrupt hormones. Because of the potential for consumers to inhale spray-on or powdered sunscreens when applying them, the EWG didn't recommend any of these forms of sunscreen.

Among the 134 top-ranking beach and sport sunscreens was Aveeno's Baby Natural Protection Mineral Block Face Stick with an SPF of 30; Badger Sunscreen, unscented, with an SPF of 30+; and Tropical Sands All Natural Sunscreen, with an SPF of 50.

The EWG gave no high ratings to non-mineral sunscreens. However, the group did recommend 11 sunscreens for those consumers who don't like mineral-containing sunscreens. Included on that list was Bull Frog's Ultimate Sheer Protection Body, with an SPF of 30; Coppertone's Oil-Free Sunscreen Lotion, with an SPF of 15; and Lubriderm's Daily Moisture Lotion, with an SPF of 15.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cautioned that it takes only a few serious sunburns to increase a child's risk of developing skin cancer later in life. To protect your children -- and yourself -- from sunburns, the CDC recommended taking the following steps:

  • Stay in the shade during midday, the time when UV rays are the strongest and most harmful to skin.
  • Cover up to help protect your skin. The CDC acknowledges that while long pants and a long-sleeve shirt are the best options, they aren't practical in the hot summer. Use sunscreen as well as cover-ups for double protection.
  • Wear a hat that can protect the face scalp, ears and neck. If choosing to wear a baseball cap, slather sunscreen on ears, neck and other exposed areas.
  • Don those shades to guard against UV rays, which can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for wrap-around sunglasses, and block as much UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Use sunscreen early and often, and choose one with at least an SPF of 15 with UVA and UVB protection whenever going outside.

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