Hopefully, we have all leaned the importance of wearing sunscreen when exposed to the sun’s rays. However, with the seemingly infinite number of products available, choosing one is often a daunting task. Recently, Consumer Reports warned of the potential dangers of using the very popular spray sunscreens on children: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/spray-sunscreen-safety-kids_n_5564533.html. In December, 2012, the FDA enacted new sunscreen rules that took effect for most major manufacturers. Let’s take a look at what sunscreens actually do and which ones are the best choices for your family.
First, let’s review what we need protection against. The sun produces Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. UVA is the predominant tanning ray and plays a large role in skin aging and wrinkling, as well as contributing to UVB’s effects on development of skin cancer. UVA reaches the deeper layers of the skin, and can penetrate clouds and glass. UVB is the chief cause of reddening and sunburn causing damage to the skin’s outermost layers. UVB plays a key role in the development of skin cancer and is most prevalent between 10am and 4pm during the Spring and Summer months. Basically, both types of rays are damaging to the skin and we all need protection when exposed for more than a few minutes.
Most sunscreens have offered protection again the UVB burning rays, but not necessarily the weaker, yet more prevalent and still damaging UVA. The new broad-spectrum label requires products to protect against BOTH UVA and UVB rays. Additionally, those sporting the label are required to pass a test proving that they protect against UVA as well. Also, new standards have been set for claims about water resistance and SPF factors. Labels must specify the duration of protection after swimming or sweating. Those without water resistance need to carry a warning label. Sunscreens are not allowed to state they “block” the sun, or that they last for longer than 2 hours unless proof is submitted to the FDA. Prevention of skin cancer or aging claims can only be found on those with SPF 15 or greater when used in conjunction with other protective measures.
What do I do now?
Now that we know about the rules, let’s examine how to actually choose a sunscreen that is right for you and your family. Let’s remember that the skin is the largest organ in your body. Anything we put on it has the potential to make its way into our bloodstream. That being said, we need to treat sunscreen the same way we would look at something we eat or drink. Many popular sunscreen ingredients have to potential to be hormone disruptors in our body. The Environmental Working Group has done extensive studies on these ingredients and they make several recommendations to help you choose safer sunscreens. They suggest looking for the active ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX which protect against UVA rays without penetrating the skin. The EWG recommends avoiding Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and added insect repellent as these ingredients may cause more harm than good. Also, avoid sprays and powders that make inhalation of the chemicals very likely, especially for children. The EWG has also compiled a comprehensive list rating sun protection products. Check it out here: http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/ Also, a quick summary of sun tips can be found here: http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/top-sun-safety-tips/
Fun in the sun is a major part of our lives. A little thought and preparation can go a long way to make sure that safety and fun can go hand in hand.