EWG’s 2015 Guide to Sunscreens
Eight Little-Known Facts About Sunscreens
Do you depend on sunscreen for skin protection? Millions of Americans do, but they shouldn’t. The rate of melanoma diagnosis is increasing. The consensus among scientists is that sunscreens alone cannot reverse this trend. Yet a good sunscreen can play role in preventing sunburns that are a major risk factor for melanoma – provided you use it correctly. Sunscreen should be just one tool in your arsenal. These eight little known facts about sunscreens will help you spot problem products and avoid getting burned.
1. There’s no proof that sunscreens prevent most skin cancer. Rates of melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – have tripled over the past 35 years. Most scientists and public health agencies – including the FDA itself – have found very little evidence that sunscreen prevents most types of skin cancer.
2. Don’t be fooled by high SPF High-SPF products tempt people to apply too little sunscreen and stay in the sun too long. The FDA has proposed prohibiting the sale of sunscreens with SPF values greater than 50+, calling higher SPF values “inherently misleading,” but it has not issued a regulation that carries the force of law. Twelve percent of sunscreens we evaluated this year advertise SPF values greater than 50+.
3. The common sunscreen additive vitamin A may speed development of skin cancer. The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A to 19 percent of beach and sport Sunscreen Chemicals Nanoparticles in Sunscreens Getting enough vitamin D EWG’s methodology for assessing sunscreens, 17 percent of moisturizers with SPF and 13 percent of lip products in this year’s database. Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging. But studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. Other governments warn that cosmetics may expose people to unsafe amounts of vitamin A They recommend against using vitamin-A-laden cosmetics on the lips and over large portions of the body. EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions that contain vitamin A, also called retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol.
4. European sunscreens provide better UVA protection. In Europe, sunscreen makers can formulate their products with any of seven chemicals that filter UVA rays. American manufacturers can use only three UVAfiltering ingredients. They have been waiting for years for FDA approval to use sunscreen ingredients widely available in Europe. The FDA has asked the makers of European sunscreen chemicals for more safety data, but until the FDA approves these ingredients and lifts restrictions on combining certain active ingredients, American consumers will be hard-pressed to find sunscreens with the strongest UVA protection.
5. Sunscreen doesn’t protect skin from all types of sun damage. The sun’s ultraviolet radiation generates free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer. American sunscreens can reduce these damages, but not as effectively as they prevent sunburn. People can run into problems if they pick a sunscreen with poor UVA protection, apply too little or reapply it infrequently. The FDA should strengthen its regulations to ensure that sunscreens offer better protection from skin damage.
6. Some sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies. There is no perfect sunscreen. Americans must choose between “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone system, and “mineral” sunscreens, made with zinc and titanium, often “micronized” or made up of nanoparticles. New evidence suggests that FDA should consider the hazards posed by inactive sunscreen ingredients that may trigger allergies.
7. Mineral sunscreens contain nano-particles. Most zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens contain nanoparticles one-twentieth the width of a human hair, to reduce or eliminate the chalky white tint that larger particles leave on the skin. Based on the available information, EWG gives a favorable rating to mineral sunscreens, but the FDA should restrict the use of unstable or UV-reactive forms of minerals that would lessen skin protection.
8. If you avoid sun, check your vitamin D levels. Sunshine causes the body to produce vitamin D, a critical function that sunscreen appears to inhibit. Vitamin D, technically a hormone, strengthens bones and the immune system and reduces risks of breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancers and perhaps other disorders. About 25 percent of Americans have borderline low levels of vitamin D, and eight percent have a serious deficiency. Breast-fed infants, people with darker skin and people who have limited sun exposure are at greatest risk for vitamin D deficiency. Many people can’t or shouldn’t rely on the sun for vitamin D. Check with your doctor to find out whether you should get a vitamin D test or take seasonal or yearround supplements.