Mum Mum’s recently discussed babies and sunscreen, and while you should avoid using sunscreen on babies under 6 months, after that the search for a good sunblock begins. Sunscreen has been getting a lot of buzz lately, but unfortunately it hasn’t been good as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their 2012 Sunscreen Guide citing hundreds of toxic products.
The EWG is a watchdog group that utilizes public information to protect public health and the environment, with a mission to protect vulnerable populations like mums and babies from the health problems attributed to toxic chemicals. The EWG regularly provides resources like the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides and Skin Deep, which examines potential toxins in skin care products.
CNN spoke with the EWG regarding the shocking results of their newest Sunscreen Guide, which found that only 25% of the 800 tested sunscreens can effectively protect your skin without the use of potentially harmful ingredients. While it seems few products pass the test, EWG reports the results are higher than in previous years. To make the group’s ‘safe’ list, sunscreens must be free from oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, protect against ultraviolet (UV) rays, and have an SPF of 50 or under.
The main function of oxybenzone is to absorb UV light, but some studies have shown it can be absorbed through the skin. Though the American Academy of Dermatology says oxybenzone is safe, and the American Academy of Pediatrics says it is safe for babies over 6 months; other toxicology experts along with the EWG believe it is linked to hormone disruption and potentially cell damage that may lead to cancer. Retinyl palminate, a form of vitamin A, has been found in studies to increase the risk of skin cancer when used on sun exposed skin, although these tests were performed on rats not humans so were labeled ‘inconclusive’. Since retinyl palminate doesn’t really make a sunscreen more effective, until better research is out it is best to avoid this ingredient.
The reasons you don’t need a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 50 is because any amount of over 50 doesn’t offer any greater protection, is often more expensive, and only protects against UVB rays. One thing everyone can agree on is the use of a broad spectrum sunblock, or one that protects against UVA as well as UVB. To ease some sunscreen shopping confusions, The FDA recently tightened the manufacturers’ label requirements but has given them 6 months to comply so we won’t see those new labels until winter.
EWG acknowledges it may feel disheartening or overwhelming to try to choose the right sunscreen product for your family, but offers some simple tips:
- Choose an SPF between 15 and 50
- Make sure labels list UVA and UVB (or broad spectrum protection);
- Avoid products containing oxybenzone and retinyl palminate if you’re concerned about potentially toxic chemicals;
- Choose lotions versus spray sunscreens for a more evenly distributed protection.
- Remember to apply at least 2 ounces of lotion (about a shot glass full) and reapply often. The sun breaks down the ingredients in sunscreen that protect your skin. Experts recommend reapplying every two hours, or after swimming or heavy sweating.