Eco-Tip Of The Week: Sunscreen Lotions

Summer’s here and it’s perfect timing for the Washington-based research group Environmental Working Group (EWG)  to release its 5th annual Sunscreen Guide listing the best sunscreens.  Organizations like EWG have stepped in to help consumers navigate the confusing landscape of producer claims and independent research. They recommend only 20 percent of sunscreens tested to safely and effectively offer protection. The good news is that’s still over 100 safe choices for consumers.

This all gets a little complex because the FDA’s failed to finalize its 1978 sunscreen safety standards so it’s up us to figure it all out – our tax dollars at work, right? When you get into the details a few facts stand out: Sunscreens prevent sunburns, but beyond that surprisingly little is known about their safety and efficacy. You can use the EWG Top Sunscreens guide, which will point you towards the safest choices. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in the sun this summer, or have children, I would take some time going through the EWG report. Here are some of the interesting facts to check out (largely quoted from the EWG report):

Sunscreens made from minerals are safest: Those with zinc and titanium are the right choice for children, people with sensitive skin and others who want the best UVA protection without potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone or vitamin A, which may be carcinogenic on sun-exposed skin.

Poor UVA protection: 60 percent of U.S. sunscreens wouldn’t be acceptable in Europe. The EWG found they provide inadequate UVA protection and are too weak for the European market, where manufacturers voluntarily comply with a standard for meaningful protection that is non-existent in the U.S.

Risky vitamin A additives: Many sunscreen makers still use a form of vitamin A, called retinyl palmitate, ignoring recent scientific research by the federal Food and Drug Administration indicating the chemical may be photocarcinogenic – that it may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin.

There’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer. The first sunscreens were developed to prevent sunburn for military personnel spending long hours under direct sunlight – not to prevent skin cancer. Some forms of skin cancer may be reduced with sunscreen use, while others may be increased. The data also get all messed up because of these two factors: 1) for 30 years we’ve had no really good UVA protection, and, 2) people who use sunscreen feel like they’re invincible so they stay out in the sun too long and don’t use enough lotion. It’s no wonder we wind up with a couple of quotes like this:

  • “FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer.” – U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2007
  • “Sunscreens were never developed to prevent skin cancer. In fact, there is no evidence to recommend that sunscreens prevent skin cancer in humans.” — Zoe Diana Draelos, editor of Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 2010

Overwhelmed yet? I was so my family is following few basic guidelines this summer:

Play in the shade or wear a hat and cloths as much as we can. I know – 90 degrees and 95 percent humidity, the shirt’s coming off. So, when enjoying the sun don’t do it during the peak intensity hours. Lastly, choose sunscreens carefully. Use the EWG guide and make sure to have good UVA protection, no chemicals like oxybenzone or vitamin A, and use a mineral based sunscreen.

We’re using California Baby No Fragrance SPF 30+ with the kids and everybody seems happy and safe so far. Best of luck and let us know if you make any good finds.