Monday, June 4, 2012

Safe & effective sunscreen

I bet there were a lot of sunburns as a result of our beautiful Victoria Day weekend. Sometimes it takes a few sunny days to get back into the habit of wearing sunscreen and safely enjoying summer-like weather.  We had to dig around for last summer’s sunscreen leftovers and rummage in the basement for sun hats. In the end we had what we needed to safely enjoy the sunny weekend but this week we were back to square one researching sunscreen for this summer.
Fortunately Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released its latest sunscreen report, making it easy to search out the safest and most effective sunscreens available this year.  
But before you run to the drugstore (or download EWG’s sunscreen app) remember there’s more to sun safety than just wearing sunscreen. The first line of defense is to cover up with wide-brimmed hats and light coloured clothing. Finding shade and staying out of the noontime sun are important too but easier said than done on sunny weekends during our too-short summers.
Sunscreen should be your last line of defense for a couple of reasons. First, it appears that there is no consensus on whether or not sunscreen actually reduces incidences of melanoma, and many sunscreens are much less effective than they claim. That’s no reason to stop using it though, just a reminder that you need to do your research before stocking up for the summer.
Based on its research EWG found that a lot of sunscreens on the shelf exaggerate claims of UV protection and many are unstable, breaking down in sunlight.
As well, there is no evidence that sunscreens with SPF ratings higher than 50 are any more effective but they do carry a higher concentration of chemicals that soak into your skin. The US FDA is considering prohibiting the sale of these products because those who use them tend to stay in the sun longer. They may not burn but their skin is damaged in other ways.
Some sunscreen ingredients react to the sun’s rays, making them more toxic. Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, can actually promote the development of tumours.  
Based on EWG’s research, mineral-based sunscreens offer the safest and best protection. They are stable in sunlight and don’t penetrate the skin. If you can’t find mineral-based sunscreen or prefer a formula that’s easier to apply EWG recommends choosing sunscreens with avobenzone (3 percent for the best UVA protection) and without the hormone disrupter oxybenzone. Confusing but just remember “oxy” is bad.  
A few more tips:
Avoid spray on or powder sunscreens since they coat your lungs and your skin, and don’t buy sunscreen with added insect repellant. This year we’ll be buying Green Beaver mineral-based sunscreen and Coppertone Kids Pure and Simple (if I can find it). Coppertone Sensitive Skin sunscreens get a good rating as well, but the other Coppertone products don’t.

View the full report at

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