Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is sunscreen safe?

I would guess that few of us have used much sunscreen so far this summer. All of these rainy weekends are probably good for our skin. But when I do use sunscreen I constantly wonder about how safe it is. I know that ultimately it’s better to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable slathering on creams containing known toxins that seep through my skin and into my body.

I’m feeling much better about sunscreens these days since I came across a new report that rates a lot of familiar brands. It was release in early July by Environmental Working Group (a non-profit environmental watchdog based in the US). The report identifies sunscreen brands that work the best (or at least live up to their SPF claims). But it also rates brands according to their toxicity, something that’s important to consider since we normally wear a lot of sunscreen during the summer months and put even more of it on our kids. As well the report provides some info on basic sun safety – which is always good to be reminded of.

According to Environmental Working Group 60% of brand-name sunscreens either don’t protect skin from sun damage or contain hazardous chemicals — or both. Here are a few guidelines to help you find sunscreen that is both safe and effective.

• If you’re shopping for sunscreen or want to check what you already have, take a look at the active ingredients list on the back of the bottle. It is usually quite short so easy to read. Avoid brands with Oxybenzone or benzophenone-3. These active ingredients are known to cause allergies and hormone problems.

• Avoid spray and powder sunscreens since inhaling sunscreens can pose extra risks.
• Buy fragrance-free brands. Chemicals used in fragrances have been linked to allergies & reproductive problems.
• Avoid sunscreen with added bug repellent since you can get too much of the pesticide in your body.
• Don’t use last year’s sunscreen. The active ingredients can lose their effectiveness over time.
• Buy brands that offer both UVA and UVB protection.

I went looking for what the report called the “Best easy-to-find brands” and found that they aren’t very easy to find after all. I searched Shoppers Drug Mart, Super Store pharmacy and the natural foods section and was only able to find two of the recommended brands: Neutrogena “Pure and Free” and Neutrogena “Sensitive Skin”. But in my search I found another excellent brand that wasn’t reviewed. Heiko, SPF 40. It’s fragrance free and the only active ingredient is zinc oxide. It’s pricey but I’m learning that good sunscreen never comes cheap.

Visit www.ewg.org for more details, including a link to a database that lets you search different brands for a safety rating.

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