Monday, June 21, 2010

Finding a better sunscreen

One of the more complicated green living decisions in our household each year is choosing sunscreen. That might sound a bit ridiculous but based on a lot of recent research, making a choice can get quite complicated. Here’s why: Sunscreen contains toxins that can be harmful when absorbed through your skin; your sunscreen is likely to be much less effective than the SPF rating leads you to believe; chances are it won’t protect you from harmful UVA rays; and the higher the SPF you choose the more time you’re probably going to spend in the sun slathered in a false sense of security.

These are the findings of Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) fourth annual review of sunscreen. For this year’s report they analyzed 500 sunscreens, including all of the major brands, and rated them according to their safety and effectiveness.

EWG isn’t trying to scare us away from sunscreen (although that might be your first reaction) their goal is to help us choose our sunscreen very carefully.

Potentially hazardous oxybenzone is an ingredient in about 60% of the sunscreens tested. It’s a hormone-disruptor that gets absorbed into your body through your skin. About 41% of sunscreens tested also contain a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate (a compound that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found could promote the development of skin cancer because of the way it reacts with sunlight.)

Studies show that on average we only apply about a quarter of the amount we should to get the SPF protection promised and we don’t reapply often enough to sustain protection.

Even if you apply and reapply as directed your brand still may not protect you against UVA radiation, the sunlight that doesn’t cause burns but still damages your skin.

And finally, studies have also shown that those who choose sunscreen with a really high SPF rating spend a lot longer in the sun than those who sport products with a lower SPF.

Before you stress out over what to slather on this summer remember that there are plenty of ways to stay safe in the sun, with and without sunscreen.
Cover up with clothing and a hat to protect your skin from the sun. (Sunscreen should never be your first or only line of defense against the sun.)
Search EWG’s database of sunscreens to find a safe and effective brand of sunscreen . EWG has slotted brands into three categories: green for recommend, yellow for caution and red for avoid. The database also provides a UVA and UVB protection rating and rates how well the sunscreen lasts. On the site you’ll find the list of what they consider to be the base (none of which have I seen around here).

I searched some of the most common brands around and found that Coppertone Pure & Simple and Sensitive Skin lines have a moderate rating of 3, just one point out of the “recommend “zone. Beware of other popular brands like Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic and Aveeno. Most of these brands fall to the “avoid” zone, even the lines for babies and kids.

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