8 Tips for Safer Sunscreens—and Which Ones to Avoid!

The FDA recently announced that it would delay enforcing its new regulations on sunscreen. The new regulations were supposed to make it easier for shoppers to determine which sunscreens to buy, and they were supposed to go into effect in June 2012. The agency recently announced, however, that it will push back enforcing rules until December 2012.

The new guidelines will require sunscreens to be tested for their ability to protect from both UVA and UVB rays before they can claim that they offer broad-spectrum protection. Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim they reduce skin cancer and early skin aging, and none will be able to say they’re waterproof or sweat proof.

Sunscreen manufacturers said they needed more time to comply with the regulations, and urged the FDA to reconsider the deadline, or face potential sunscreen shortages in the stores this summer. Now that the FDA has granted this request, consumers must spend another summer trying to wade through all the confusing label claims to find the best skin protection.

Here are a few tips to help make your decision easier…I hope!

  1. Avoid those with vitamin A. Manufacturers use it because it’s a powerful antioxidant thought to help slow skin aging. According to a recent government study, mice treated with vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) and ultraviolet light developed skin tumors faster than untreated mice. There were more tumors on every animal treated with retinyl palmitate, raising the concern that vitamin A, when exposed to sunlight, may enhance the photocarcinogenic activity of UV rays. Other studies confirm the results—that vitamin A derivatives react with UV light to form harmful free radicals that are toxic to skin.
  2. Choose SPF 30–50. This will give you the best protection, but don’t be fooled by more expensive 50+ options. The FDA states that no reliable research has shown that an SPF above 50 gives any better protection than those with a 50 SPF.
  3. Avoid chemical sunscreens, like oxybenzone. Chemical sunscreens have been linked with allergic reactions, dermatitis, and potential hormone disruption. Zinc oxide is the safest sunscreen, as long as it doesn’t come in nanoparticles.
  4. Avoid nanoparticles. There is some research that sunscreens present in teeny, tiny nanoparticles that can actually penetrate skin and get into the bloodstream. Some products use sunscreen ingredients in nanoparticles so they will go on your skin more smoothly and disappear more quickly. Choose organic and natural brands that are more careful about such things—usually they will say they do not use nanoparticles on their website.
  5. Look for UVA protection. Your skin needs protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Most sunscreens protection against UVB rays, which are thought to be responsible for sunburn. Only some, however, protect against UVA rays, which are considered more damaging when it comes to skin cancer. Look for sunscreens that advertise protection against both types of rays (also called “broad spectrum” protection). Better yet, choose zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which both protect against all UV rays.
  6. Avoid spray and powder sunscreens. Once you start spraying or releasing powder sunscreens into the air, you increase your risk of inhaling the ingredients. Though titanium dioxide is a good choice in a cream sunscreen (that’s not made with nanoparticles), titanium dioxide inhaled is potentially toxic and carcinogenic if you inhale it. Spray sunscreens can also be flammable—not a good idea if you’re barbequing. Choose lotions instead.
  7. Ignore waterproof and sweat proof claims. The effectiveness of sunscreens fade when exposed to water or sweat. Some may be more resistant than others, but none are waterproof. If you’re going to be in the water or exercising vigorously, choose a water resistant formula. Rule of thumb—reapply any sunscreen at least every 2 hours, and more often if you’re in the water or sweating.
  8. Go for children’s formulas. If you have sensitive skin, skin allergies, or conditions like rosacea or eczema, choose children’s sunscreens (or organic brands). These typically have fewer potentially toxic and irritating ingredients like alcohol, fragrances, and preservatives.

Do you have other tips for choosing a great sunscreen? Please share.

Picture courtesy yvonnekjr via Flickr.com.

Sources

Sonya Lunder, “What Scientists Say About Vitamin A in Sunscreen,Environmental Working Group, June 2011, http://www.ewg.org/report/what-scientists-say-about-vitamin-sunscreen.

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