sunscreens

  • EWG's 2015 Sunscreen Report

    What exactly does it mean when you see sunscreen or sunblock on a product label? The store shelves offer so many to choose from, no wonder it can get a bit frustrating. Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not updated their sunscreen safety standards since 1978. In June of 2011, FDA posted new rules for sunscreen products to help clear up some of the confusion. The new stricter guidelines mandate products to describe how well the product protects your skin.

    Ultraviolet B testing is currently the only one required from manufacturers. UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburn. The new regulations also require sunscreens that don’t protect against both UVA and UVB rays or offer SPF under 15, to carry a warning label: “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

    Other new regulations include requirements to prohibit claims like “waterproof ” and “sweatproof.” FDA has said these claims are exaggerations. If a product has proof of “water & sweat proofing,” they also need to show how much time you can expect to get SPF protection before having to reapply.

    What is the SPF?
    “Sun protection factor” lets you know the amount of sun exposure needed to cause sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin compared to unprotected skin. For example, an SPF of 30, allows you to get sun exposure thirty times longer than without any sunscreen, before sunburn. Over the years, the definition of just how high the factor needs to be has changed and gone up and down many times.

    The reason for the yo-yo reports on SPF needed is that studies have not proven what amount is effective. The FDA is now proposing to set a high SPF value to 50 and a low of 15. Companies that want to set SPF levels of 75 and 100 on their labels must show testing to back up their claims. As of now, there are no studies substantiating any SPF higher than 50 is more effective or beneficial. In fact, the higher SPFs contain more chemicals, which could cause more harm than good.

    Another problem with high SPF such as 100, is it falsely indicates you can stay in the sun a hundred times longer before causing the skin to burn. However, studies report users of high- SPF sunscreens have similar or higher exposures to harmful UV rays. One reason could be they trust the product and do not reapply as needed, while extending sun exposure.

    FDA is also banning the term “sunblock” under the new rules, because it does not exist. You can’t block the sun with creams or lotions. The only real way to block the sun is with a hat, umbrella or whatever physical means of not exposing your skin to direct sun.

    Ultraviolet A Rays and Cancer
    UVB rays only penetrate the outer skin layer, which results in sunburn or in some cases, non-melanoma skin cancer such as squamous cell carcinoma. Although current regulations require testing for UVB rays, it is the UVA rays that are of concern. These rays are far more dangerous. They penetrate deeper into the skin, where it can cause DNA damage. They are linked to wrinkles, skin cancer and can even penetrate glass.

    The new FDA ruling mandates products have “broad spectrum” protection, which means sunscreen for both UVA and UVB rays.

    Sun worshipers should not, however, get too secure, even with this new “broad spectrum” rule. Skin cancer has been on the rise since the early 1990s. The FDA 2007 draft of sunscreen safety regulations reported: “FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer.”

    Truth be told, clothing, hats, and shade are the only true barriers to UV radiation and prevention of skin cancer. This fact is echoed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

    Some reports have found an increase in melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) among sunscreen users. The reason could be these individuals feel they are being protected and that the product they are using is blocking dangerous UV radiation. We know now this is not true.

    1. Frequent sunscreen users do show a lower incidence of squamous cell carcinoma, which is a slow-growing tumor that is treatable by surgery.
    2. Sunscreen use has no demonstrated influence on basal cell carcinoma.
    3. Long-term exposure to the sun, may increase the risk of melanoma.

    Physicians are more concerned about malignant melanoma. Children who are exposed to intermittent, severe sunburns are at greatest risk.

    Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen
    Dermatologists recommend sunscreen should only be used on exposed skin areas, like the hands and face. There is concern that problems of potential hormonal toxicity of sunscreen active ingredients with frequent applications on the whole body. This could lead to increase systemic absorption of these ingredients with resulting risk of adverse health effects.

    Vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, in some sunscreens, has been recently shown in FDA studies to speed development of skin cancer and lesions. Currently, 30 percent of sunscreens, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG), contain retinyl palmitate. This ingredient is effective for anti-aging when used in creams or lotions for indoor use, but when exposed to sunlight, free radicals can form, that can damage DNA.

    In 2009, a study by the Center for Disease Control found the common UVA blocker oxybenzone in the urine of 2,500 people who regularly used sunscreens. Oxybenzone has been reported to have hormone-like activity and is not recommended by EWG.

    After testing 1,000 brands of sunscreen, EWG found many with potentially toxic ingredients, including oxybenzone.

    FDA Allowable Ingredients in Sunscreens, and Results for Safety

    • Padimate O—not supported by European Union (EU), may be delisted by FDA
    • p-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA)—shown to increase DNA defects
    • Cinoxate—not tested for safety
    • Dioxybenzone—not tested for safety
    • Oxybenzone—not tested for safety
    • Homosalate—not tested for safety
    • Menthyl Anthranilate—not tested for safety
    • Octocrylene—increases reactive oxygen in skin, advancing aging
    • Octyl Salicylate—not tested for safety
    • Trolamine Salicylate—not tested for safety
    • Zinc Oxide—protects skin against tumors in mice

    How to Protect Yourself in Summer or Winter
    Sunshine is vital to our health and well-being. The main source of vitamin D in the body is sunshine. Vitamin D strengthens bones and our immune system, reduces the risk of certain cancers and is important in regulation of genes involved in many tissues of the body.

    Vitamin D supplements are the alternative to maintaining needed levels, however, how much is needed is still debated by scientists. Dermatologists and researchers do agree on the following:

    1. Keep sunscreen and lip balm with you at all time, in your car and purse.
    2. Use a natural sunscreen, preferably with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
    3. Keep a broad-rimmed hat in your car and wear it during sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4p.m., when ultraviolet rays are strongest.
    4. Children have sensitive, delicate skin and should especially be protected with proper clothing to cover sun-exposed areas. Sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the best recommended for babies and children.
    5. Wear sunglasses to help prevent damage like cataracts or vision loss at older age.
    6. Your lips also need sun cream. Protect your lips with natural lip balm with shea butter, which has natural sunscreen properties.
    7. Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before exposure. Re-apply often.
    8. Make sure to apply to face, hands, neck, ears, hands and arms.

    Best Sunscreens to Buy
    Consumer watchdog groups like the Environmental Working Group, offer education and health and eco-friendly sun protection recommendations. They also recommend not giving up on sunscreens altogether. But they do summarize that the best first line of defense against harmful radiation should be shade, protective clothing and avoiding the noontime sun.

  • There is a lot of buzz about toxic ingredients in sunscreen, and rightly so. Everyone should consider their skin to be sensitive and focus on sensitive skin sunscreen. Most people use sunscreen to allow them to stay in the sun longer without worry of skin damage. Some studies have reported there could be health concerns with the ingredients in sunscreen, outweighing the benefits of their skin protection. Many sunscreens include highly irritating ingredients. Of course, there are many types of sunscreen to choose from, with most people focusing on the higher number SPF to maximize sun exposure. However, there is more to it than just the SPF number when it comes to choosing the best sunscreen for you and your family.

    What is Sun Protection Factor (SPF)?
    The SPF indicates the amount of protection a sunscreen offers against UVB, which is the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn. According to the American Cancer Society, sunscreen is recommended in order to prevent skin cancer, specifically squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma. The problem is that many sunscreens do not block the harmful rays of the sun known as UVA radiation. UVA may not cause sunburn but can harm the skin cells and increase the risk of skin cancer.

    You can use higher sunscreen with high sun protection factors, but it still may not block these harmful rays. Many sun worshippers believe if they normally get sunburn in two hours, an SPF 20 sunscreen will help prevent sunburn for an extra 20 hours, or 20 times longer exposure.

    Sunscreen with UVA versus UVB
    Most people see UVA and UVB on labels, but what are UVA and UVB and what is the difference between UVA vs. UVB? The UVA (ultraviolet A) penetrates the skin, causing wrinkles and other skin damage, while UVB (ultraviolet B) causes sunburns. Scientists used to report damage only with UVB and cancer, but now suspect UVA as well. UVA has also been called the aging rays, while UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays. The SPF (sun protection factor) number let you know how much protection you’ll get. For example, if you would normally get sunburn in 10 minutes, an SPF 15 extends that by 15 times. So you could last 150 minutes without burning. From recent studies, more than SPF 30 is not needed.

    Most sunscreen either absorb ultraviolet light with a specific chemical or they block, reflect, scatter and absorb UV light. Rather than focusing only on the SPF to measure the effectiveness of the sunscreen for your skin, other factors should be considered.

    • How sensitive your skin is — As mentioned above, you’re better off always choosing safe sensitive skin sunscreen, no matter what your skin type. Usually, these types of sunscreen contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are two very important ingredients in sunblock. FDA has rated these two sunscreen ingredients as safe and effective towards sun block.
    • How often you apply it — If you apply the sunscreen in the morning and do not apply it after swimming or sweating, the protection is lost. Even if the product lists it as waterproof, it’s important to re-apply it.
    • Active ingredients used — Certain ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sunscreen are the healthy sunscreen active ingredients, while some others may be of concern. For example, PABA was found to increase DNA defects. Padimate O, oxybenzone, dioxybenzone and others have not been tested for safety. Zinc oxide has been shown to protect against skin tumors in mice.

    In 2009, a study by Center for Disease Control found the common UVA blocker oxybenzone in the urine of 2,500 people who regularly used sunscreens. Oxybenzone has been reported to have hormone-like activity and is not recommended by EWG. After testing 1,000 brands of sunscreen, EWG found many with potentially toxic ingredients, including oxybenzone.

    FDA Label Regulations for Sunscreen
    The final FDA rules established in 2012 bans “waterproof” claims, instead products can claim water resistant up to 80 minutes of exposure. Also claims of protection over 2 hours are not allowed without specific approval.

    What to Look For in Sensitive Skin Sunscreen
    The two main ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These offer broad-spectrum protection without potential harmful and irritating side effects. No matter what your skin type, choose a safe sensitive skin sunscreen that includes these two ingredients, but is free of parabens and other irritating ingredients. In other words, sunscreen should also be hypoallergenic, should not clog pores (noncomedogenic) and be considered as broad-spectrum, which means it protects against UVA and UVB radiation.

    Natural Sunblock and Safe Sunscreen Ingredients

    The best recommended ingredients for sun protection are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These two ingredients protect against both UVA and UVB. They are also the two important ingredients in natural sunblock.

    Sunscreen is more transparent when applied. Unless it lists zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as ingredients, it will not act as a sunblock.

    How to Protect Yourself in Summer or Winter
    • Keep sunscreen and lip balm with you at all time, in your car and purse.
    • Use a natural sunscreen preferably zinc oxide sunscreen.
    • Keep a broad-rimmed hat in your car and wear it during sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM, when ultraviolet rays are strongest.
    • Lotion sunscreens are not waterproof, but may be water resistant. Re-apply since they do wear off.
    • Children have sensitive, delicate skin and should especially be protected with proper clothing to cover sun exposed areas. Baby sunscreen brands are available.
    • Wear sunglasses to help prevent damage like cataracts or vision loss at older age.
    • Your lips also need sun cream. Protect your lips with natural lip balm with shea butter.
    • Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before exposure.
    • Make sure to apply to face, hands, neck, ears, hands and arms.
    FDA Allowable Ingredients in Sunscreens, and Results for Safety
    • Padimate O — not supported by European Union (EU), may be delisted by FDA
    • p-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA) — shown to increase DNA defects
    • Cinoxate — not tested for safety
    • Dioxybenzone — not tested for safety
    • Oxybenzone — not tested for safety
    • Homosalate — not tested for safety
    • Menthyl Anthranilate — not tested for safety
    • Octocrylene — increases reactive oxygen in skin, advancing aging
    • Octyl Salicylate — not tested for safety
    • Trolamine Salicylate — not tested for safety
    • Zinc Oxide — protects skin against tumors in mice
  • EWG's 2015 Sunscreen Report is online.

    There is no clear consensus on whether sunscreens actually prevent cancer; in fact, there’s some evidence that sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer in some people.


    The U.S. lags far behind Europe, Japan and Australia in providing consumers with safe, high quality sunscreens. Why you might ask? Because the FDA is slow in evaluating and approving better sunscreen ingredients and new combinations – making it impossible for U.S. formulators to achieve the highest level of UVA protection in their products (Osterwalder, 2009).

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