Wear sunscreen. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

In the last few years, there has been a lot of research that shows it might not be as simple as that. While experts agree that you should use sunscreen, statements like this — “there’s no consensus that sunscreens prevent skin cancer” – from the Sunscreen Report by EWG has raised a lot of discussion. The FDA has allowed advertisers to make cancer-prevention claim without definitive data. In fact, studies show mixed results, and some studies show an increased risk of melanoma with sunscreen use (this may be because of poor quality of some sunscreens, or because people have a false sense of security when using sunscreen so they stay in the rays longer).

Some ingredients found in sunscreen can cause damage to the skin and even increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Vitamin A (as retinyl palmitate or retinol) is often added to sunscreen because, as an anti-oxidant, it is thought to slow the aging of skin. However, when exposed to light and prolonged exposure, it may actually speed up the development of skin tumors. Nanomaterials and hormone disrupters are often added to sunscreen so it is not so white and sticky. But these chemicals, such as oxybenzone are then absorbed by the skin (experts advise caution for use by children). Nanoparticles are in powders and sprays and, although sunscreen in those forms is easier to apply, you may also be inhaling it with unknown consequences. Since your skin is a large absorptive surface, a good rule of thumb if you wouldn’t eat it, think twice before putting on your skin.

The higher the SPF, the better, right? Not necessarily. The Sunburn Protection Factor is a rating which pertains primarily to UVB rays which burn the skin, but does not measure protection against UVA rays which penetrate deeper into the skin and cause more damage, such as suppressed immune system, skin-aging, and increased risk of melanoma. The FDA is considering banning a rating of SPF 50 or higher because it does not offer any additional benefit and may even put us at risk for more UVA exposure because we feel so protected.

So what to do as you send your children off to play in the sunshine?

  • Don’t rely on sunscreen as your primary protection from the sun. Consider it a backup. Take advantage of shade and protective clothing and avoid the sun when at its highest angle in the sky.
  • Do not use spray or powdered sunscreen. Slathering is safer since you avoid inhaling tiny particles into your lungs.
  • Purchase products with an SPF under 50.
  • Avoid sunscreens with Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate, retinol) or Oxybenzone (4-MBC).
  • Mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and or titanium oxide are best (but not in spray or powder form) because they offer the best UVA protection. A good sunscreen leaves a white hue on the skin.
  • Avoid products with these meaningless terms on the label: waterproof, sunblock, sweat-proof, and broad spectrum.
  • Even if SPF is listed, many makeup and lip balms do not contain adequate sun protection.
  • Visit breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen to review the ratings of over 1800 products.

Don’t shut out the summer rays completely because too little sun may also be harmful. We need sunlight for our skin to produce vitamin D for overall well-being and possible lower skin cancer risks. Check out The Vitamin D Solution by Dr. Michael Holick, Ph.D, M.D., to determine the right amount of sun exposure for you.

Summer is a fun time of year. By finding the right sunscreen for you, you can enjoy every single minute of glorious sunshine.

Reference: EWG’s Skin Deep Sunscreen Report 2012

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