Don’t Get Burned! Buy Safe Sunscreens

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Memorial Day weekend is the time of year when most of us welcome the warm thoughts of summer. We start shopping for new beach towels, model new swim suits and stock up on the sunscreen. Before you buy those sunscreens, make sure you check the Environmental Working Group’s 2013 Guide to Sunscreens to keep us informed on which ones work, which ones are a waste of money, and which ones could potentially be hazardous to your health.

The EWG tested the safety and efficacy of more than 1,400 sunscreens, lotions, lip products and make ups that advertise sun protection. EWG researchers found that only 25 percent of products on the market in 2013 offer strong and broad UV protection and pose few safety concerns.

Rates of melanoma – the deadliest skin cancer – have tripled over the past 35 years, with an annual increase of 1.9 percent per year since 2000. Part of the reason for the increase may be the decades of deceptive marketing claims by sunscreen manufacturers, EWG researchers said.  EWG believes that the federal Food and Drug Administration should press companies to stop selling high-SPF sunscreens (above 50+), which account for 1 in 7 products on the market. As a result of misleading and confusing marketing claims, consumers frequently misuse sunscreens and spend more time in the sun than they should, putting themselves at greater risk.

Moreover, until recently, sunscreens provided little protection from the sun’s ultraviolet A rays. Sunburns are caused mostly by relatively short but intense ultraviolet B rays. Longer UVA rays, which penetrate the body more deeply, inflict more insidious damage and may contribute to or cause cancer.  The FDA’s current definition of “broad-spectrum” still results in inadequate UVA protection. While nearly every sunscreen on the market meets the new FDA rule for broad-spectrum protection, that standard is so weak that half of the sunscreens on the American market would not be soldEurope, where the safety and efficacy protocols are more stringent.

EWG’s Top 4 Things NOT to Bring to the Beach, Pool or on Vacation:

No sprays. Given the ease of applying them to squirming kids and hard-to-reach areas, these super-popular spray sunscreens may seem like a dream come true. But they may pose serious inhalation risks and may not fully cover skin. About 1 in 4 sunscreens in EWG’s database is a spray.

No super-high SPFs (above 50+). Products with high SPF values provide little additional skin protection and may contribute to consumer misperception and misuse.

No vitamin A (retinyl palmitate). Vitamin A is touted for its anti-aging effects on skin. But retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A added to almost 1 in 4 SPF-rated sunscreens, makeups and moisturizers, could speed development of tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin, according to a government study.

No oxybenzone. Commonly used in sunscreens, oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can trigger allergic reactions. Data are preliminary, but studies have found links between oxybenzone and health harms. Nearly half of all beach and sport sunscreens in EWG’s 2013 guide contain oxybenzone.

“The best advice for concerned consumers is to use sun-protective clothing, stay in the shade to reduce intense sun exposure and schedule regular skin examinations by a doctor,” said Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at EWG and lead author of the report.  EWG’s guide helps consumers find products that get high ratings for providing broad-spectrum, long-lasting protection and that are made with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns.

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