It is that time of year again, when the cold winter months have come to a close. The mornings are brighter and summer is on the way. Many people try to refresh their habits in line with the season, and one that we have been advised to be extra vigilant about is of course…..wear sunscreen!
So we listen to what we are told, we slather on the expensive sun protection and can then relax in the knowledge that we are protected against the harmful ultra violet rays of the sun? As with many things, that is not the whole story.
The EWG recently analyzed a large selection of U.S. sun protection products, around 1,700 in total, and their results were damning. A staggering 80% of those tested either contained harmful ingredients, or failed to offer adequate UV protection – or both!
Among the products tested were sun-screens, SPF moisturizers and lip balms. You can view the entire list of products and their results here.
Dave Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG said “Our research confirms that not all sunscreens are created equal. Many products do not provide enough UVA protection. Some contain hazardous chemicals such as the hormone disruptor oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A linked to skin damage. Shoppers who use our guide can find sunscreens that are not only more effective but safer for themselves and their family.”
Over 30 of the scrutinized products were even categorized as belonging to the so called ‘Sunscreen Hall of Shame’. EWG stated that these were not only a waste of money, but were actually also harmful to humans.
These were chosen for four main reasons, which are discussed below.
Some products relegated to the hall of shame were spray sunscreens. The reason that this is a problem, is because it makes it very easy to inhale to product. They are quick and easy to apply, but unfortunately the shott cut comes with a cost. It becomes very easy to miss a spot, leaving no sun protection at all. Their safety therefore comes into question – they are less effective and pose an inhalation risk. The real worry with these is that they are very popular for use on children, the most vulnerable amongst us.
Another reason that sun protection products found themselves in the hall of shame was because they boast excessively high SPF ratings. SPF stands for ‘sun protection rating’. People purchase options with a high rating, without understanding what they are actually buying.
SPF only protects from UBB rays, those that burn the skin – it is not connected to the UVA rays, which are the ones we should be wary of. UVA rays are more of a concern because they reach deeper within the body – increasing signs of aging and have been linked to cancer.
Sunscreens with a high SPF often trick people into feeling safe in the sun for longer. While sunburn may be reduced, the other kinds of skin damage are not.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labelled sun protection products with SPF values of more than 50 “inherently misleading” – although there has been no ban in place. It is interesting to note that Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia do not allow ultra-high SPFs.
“Many studies have shown that people are misled by label claims about sun protection and that, as a result, those who use higher SPF sunscreens are more likely to stay out in the sun longer and more likely to burn.” ~ Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at EWG.
Oxybenzone is an active ingredient found in around half of the ‘beach and sport’ sunscreens tested by the EWG. The problem with this chemical is that is is absorbed into the blood screen, where it can disrupt hormones, and also cause skin reactions. Sun protection products containing this chemical found themselves in the hall of shame.
The EWG found about a fifth of the sunscreen products that they tested contained this compound – which is actually a form of vitamin A. When Retinyl Palmitate is used on skin that has been subjected to sun exposure, it can accelerate the development of skin tumors and lesions, according to various government studies.
You can find the full list of sun protection products on the link here.
Two of the worst are:
These in particular are marketed for use on children and babies. They contain oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and have excessive SPFs (giving a false sense of security to parents). On top of that they are both aerosol sprays that can harm sensitive young lungs. These products are purchased with the intention to protect children, it is very concerning that they could in fact be causing harm – and that is with a hefty price tag.
Neutrogena, the self proclaimed “#1 dermatologist recommended suncare brand” has found itself one of the stars of the hall of shame, with many of it’s products failing EWG’s tests.
“It is really quite astonishing how Neutrogena attempts to deceive shoppers with ad hype in order to sell potentially harmful products. We’ve turned a spotlight on bad actors like Neutrogena, but so much more needs to be done to stop companies from getting away with hyping their products at the expense of consumer health.” ~ Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at EWG.
There were of course some products that scored very highly in EWG’s tests. The complete breakdown can be found here. It worked out to around 21% of the products.
One of the best for kids was TruKid Eczema Care Daily Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30+.
While it is important to know what is in the sunscreen that you are using on yourself and your family, there are other things to take into account.
It is recommended that exposure to the sun in limited, and avoided completely at the hottest part of the day. Protective clothing and UVA protecting tents are other options that could be used while in the sun.
Such measures will help to protect against burning, but will also limit the chances of developing skin cancer and premature aging.
It is most important that we take adequate steps to protect young children from the damaging sun rays. Safer sunscreens would make a huge difference, and until regulations are stricter, we will have to keep ourselves informed about the products that we use for our families.
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