Tuesday, June 14, 2011

EWG's annual sunscreen review

Given the spring weather we have endured I doubt sunscreen shopping has been top of mind for many, but assuming sunny weather is on the way Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its annual sunscreen review, featuring a new slate of recommended products to search out and great guidance on what products you should avoid.

EWG rates sunscreens on a one-to-seven scale, one being “green” or your best choice for safety and effectiveness and seven (“red”), for those with the most dangerous chemical load and questionable effectiveness.

The highest rated sunscreens are those that protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, but also contain the least amount of harmful chemicals that when absorbed by the body can contribute to health issues.

All of EWG’s top sunscreens are mineral-based (eg. contain zinc or titanium) and are rated one or two. These tend to be more expensive but are also more effective and safer so offer value for dollar. Mineral-based sunscreens are not absorbed by the body (a good thing) so often leave your skin looking white-washed but more and more are non-whitening and easier to apply.

The “best” of the non-mineral based rate a respectable three, offering a reasonably safe and effective alternative to the mineral-based products. In this year’s review a few Coppertone products rate well: Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50, Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50, Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, Faces, SPF 50, and Water Babies Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50.

A great product that isn’t in the EWG database is the new Green Beaver sunscreen. It’s mineral-based but non-whitening, fragrance-free, waterproof and made in Canada. It’s SPF 30 and there is a kids version too.

There are a few more things to consider when you’re choosing sunscreen. Higher SPF products (anything above SPF 50) can be deceptive since there is no guarantee that they are any more effective than lower SPF products. They are often loaded with more chemicals and those who use them tend to stay in the sun much longer than those who choose a lower SPF product. Instead, choose a product that’s SPF 50 or lower and apply it properly. Sprays and powders rate poorly because users (and anyone nearby) inhale the chemicals. Also rated poorly are products containing vitamin A (listed as retinyl palmitate) because of concerns based on U.S. government data that they contribute to the development of some skin cancers.

Sunscreen is only one part of sun safety. Seek out shade during the hottest part of the day (between 11-4), wear sunglasses (with UVA & UVB protection), a broad-rim hat, and cover up with light-coloured clothing for the best protection from the sun that we have all been craving. Visit www.ewg.org/2011sunscreen for the full report.

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