I scream, you scream, we all scream for sunscreen. Is that how the rhyme goes? We know that we’re supposed to wear sunscreen to limit dangerous sun exposure – right? Do we also know that some sunscreens may do more harm than good? We’ve screened the health information about sunscreens, so you don’t have to.
SUNSCREEN – GOOD NEWS
Sunscreen can provide protection against skin damage, caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is present even on cloudy days and is either UVA or UVB. UVA is associated with wrinkling of the skin and the UVB radiation is more closely linked to cancer.
It is a myth that you don’t need to use sunscreen if you’re an adult because any skin damage was already done during childhood. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, only about 25% of the damage comes during childhood and the rest of it comes during adulthood. So, lather up people.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU USE?
More than you think. During a long day at the beach, one person should use around one half to one quarter of an 8 oz. bottle. Sunscreens should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to the skin.
SPF STANDS FOR SUN PROTECTION FACTOR
It is supposed to be a user friendly word. The SPF rating is a measure of the time it would take you to sunburn if you were NOT wearing sunscreen. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings block slightly more UVB rays (the ones that burn), but none offers 100% protection. You could wear SPF 800 and still get burned.
A “waterproof” label is misleading and could be considered false advertising. The best way to keep the sunscreen on when in the water is to reapply often. Sunscreens labeled “water resistant” and “very water resistant” types are good for hot days or while playing sports, because they’re less likely to drip into your eyes when you sweat. For everyday use they may not be good to wear with makeup (too sticky) and they may provide less protection (reapply every two hours).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Look for sunscreens that work against both UVA and UVB protection. They can be labeled as:
• Multi spectrum
• Broad spectrum
• UVA/UVB protection
SUNSCREEN – BAD NEWS
Most sunscreens contain chemical additives (the stuff that makes them work). The additives are oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate), homosalate, octocrylene and paraben preservatives.
When oxybenzone is absorbed by your skin, it can cause an eczema-like allergic reaction that can spread beyond the exposed area and last long after you’re out of the sun. Experts also suspect that oxybenzone disrupts hormones. Octinoxate is readily absorbed by our skin and can interact with estrogen levels. Retinyl palmitate, when exposed to the sun’s UV rays, can break down and produce destructive free radicals that are toxic to cells, damage DNA, and may lead to cancer. Homosalate accumulates in the body faster than we can get rid of it so it can become toxic and disrupt hormones.
Parabens may be the worst ingredient – and are the best to avoid. Parabens can cause allergic reactions, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity. Links to cancer are being studied.
Some sunscreens don’t work as they say they will. A Consumer Reports study found 28 of 60 sunscreens tested did not match claims on the label.
The danger of sunscreen is that people may get a false sense of security from the claimed protection, when in reality their sunscreen is either ineffective, or has worn off, or is past its expiration date. The Environmental Working Group has a database of the best and worst sunscreens for adults and for children.
If your sunscreen is more than two years old – toss it. And avoid these sunscreens for adults:
Avoid the following sunscreens for children because they made high SPF claims or had higher amounts of the additives oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.
- EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46
- Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive SPF 30+
- SPF 30 daily oil-free face moisturizer
- Neutrogena Oil Free Moisture SPF 35
- Eucerin Daily Protection Moisturizing Face Lotion
- Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
- Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Stick, Wacky Foam, and Sunscreen lotion, SPF 55
- CVS Baby Sunstick Sunscreen and Spray, SPF 55
- Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
- Hampton Sun Continuous Mist Sunscreen For Kids, SPF 70
- Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray and Stick products, SPF 70
- Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
SUNSCREEN – GOOD NEWS
There are new sunscreens are on the market that do the job and do not have the chemical additives listed above. When in doubt, read the label. If you’re overwhelmed with sunscreen information, just remember this:
- SPF 30
- Water resistance
- Stay away for the above mentioned chemicals
- Apply generously every two hours