Sunscreen Doesn’t Always Protect You

June 28, 2011 Katja Presnal

Sunscreens protect us from sun and they are good for us, right? It’s not that simple. I’ve got bad news and good news for you about sunscreen, but even if you just remember one thing: you need to know more about sunscreen, and even if you will not feel like reading this post now and you’re busy doing something fun, please bookmark it, share it and read it when you have a chance.

What to Buy

Buy sunscreens over SPF 30+ with active ingredient titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Cover yourself everyday, and better sunscreen than lotion is using clothing and a hat to cover yourself. Do not buy sprays or powders, because you are very likely to breathe the chemicals in the sunscreen in if they come in a form of spray or powder. Here is a list of best rated sunscreens.

Sunscreens Can Be Toxic – Say no to Oxybenzone

Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies nearly 600 sunscreens sold in the U.S. that contain oxybenzone, including household brand names like Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, and Banana Boat. Oxybenzone doesn’t just block the UVA rays by reflecting them, but it’s also penetration enhancer, chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin better. It makes all those other chemicals in the sunscreen to work better. Both OXYBENZONE and OCTINOXATE are linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity, can harm skin in the cell level, which can lead to several health problems like allergies and hormone disruption, which are not widely researched yet. Oxybenzone is also linked to cancer and harming the immune system. Look for sunscreens with minerals zinc or titanium.

Read the Labels & Don’t Believe Them

Read the sunscreen labels and be warned: even if they say they are recommended by FDA, Skin Cancer Foundation or is good for babies, read the labels to make sure the active ingredient is either mineral, zinc or titanium, not chemicals. FDA regulations are not current and you can get Skin Cancer Foundation to recommend a product by paying $10,000.

Get Your Sunscreen On Your Trip To Europe

Europe, Canada and Australia changed sunscreen regulations in 1997 though, and oxybenzone was banned and three other specific active sunscreen ingredients – avobenzone (also known as Parsol 1789), titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide – were recommended as the basis of sunscreens. In addition Europe has several other sunscreen ingredients in use that are not allowed in the US, even though three of them – Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M and Mexoryl SX – are between 3.8 times and 5.1 times more protective than avobenzone, the most common UVA filter in the U.S. American companies have applied to have these ingredients to approved in the US by FDA for years, but they are still waiting. In fact very few sunscreens on the U.S. market would meet the baseline UVA protection standards proposed in Europe. So… go ahead and forget your sunscreen home on your vacation to Europe and bring some home from there!

FDA Is Finally Starting to Notice – But Not Enough

FDA has done very poor job in regulating sunscreens in the past decades, but the good news is that they are starting to pay more attention and by next year, sunscreens will have better labeling. The Oxybenzone still won’t be banned, but here are some changes:

* Sunscreen products that are not broad spectrum or that are broad spectrum with SPF values under SPF 15 will be labeled with a warning that reads: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

* Water resistance claims on the product’s front label must tell how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Two times will be permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.

* Manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are “waterproof” or “sweatproof, or identify their products as “sunblocks.” Also, sunscreens cannot claim protection immediately on application (for example, “instant protection”) or protection for more than two hours without reapplication, unless they submit data and get approval from FDA.

* FDA is proposing a regulation that would require sunscreen products that have SPF values higher than 50 to be labeled as “SPF 50+.” FDA does not have adequate data demonstrating that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide additional protection compared to products with SPF values of 50.

There is An App for That

You can get a lot more information about sunscreens at EWG.org/sunscreen. They also have listed most of the sunscreens on the market in their datebase and you can check how safe your sunscreen is. What’s even better – you can also download their iPhone app and get your sunscreen rating list on the go so you can check how the sunscreens rate for safety when you shop for them at the store. The sunscreens are rated 1-7, 1 being the best and 7 the worst rating for their safety. What’s most surprising here – the safest place to buy your sunscreen is not your mass retailer nor drug store; the best places to shop for sunscreens is Whole Foods, natural product stores, children’s product stores like Diapers.com, and health stores. Bad news is that the safer sunscreens tend to be much more expensive.

Remember to Use Correctly

Add before swimming AND after swimming (or sweating). Even if you use high SPF lotions, remember to reapply during the day if you are outside for longer periods.

Resources: EWG, FDA

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Katja Presnal

Katja Presnal shows how to live Nordic inspired life to the fullest and plan your dream life. Katja owns Presnal5 strategic marketing intelligence agency and wants to help marketing professionals to combine a dream career and dream life via freelance work.Katja is an award-winning marketing strategist, and a well-known speaker. Katja has lived in five different countries, and seven states in the USA. Her three children were all born in different countries within three years. When not working or jet-setting the world, Katja is at home cooking big family dinners.She has been featured in NY Times, Glamour, Redbook, Fodor's, Forbes and Woman's Day magazines among many other national and international publications and written for MTV3 and Lifetime TV networks.

Comments (8)

  1. Ugh! I juts checked each and every one of my sunscreens – they ALL have 5-6% of Oxybenzone. WTH? Now I’m afraid to have the kids outside. I couldn’t find anything at CVS without that. How about Target? Walmart?

    Thanks Katja!

  2. Thanks for these tips, going to check my sunscreens out now for that nasty chemical!! Just when you think things on the shelf are safe, they are not! UGH!

  3. Enjoy Life Oils

    Tonya – I’m glad I was able to help. And Shannon – we just did the same in our last Disney trip, we forgot sunscreen home and just bought the spray one at the parks because they didn’t have anything else.
    The biggest problem is that even the “safe for babies” are not always good, and even the ones that say “sensitive skin” are not. My daughter has very sensitive skin, and she gets rash very easily, so I am used to buying natural products for her and that many even normal lotions meant for “sensitive skin” don’t work. Sunscreen is worse because of the active ingredients. What also sucks, that the safer sunscreen is much more expensive. The large known manufacturers don’t offer oxybenzone free, and the small companies don’t have the same scale that they do. This also results that you can’t even always find a safe option from your grocery store or even drug store!

  4. We’ve been reading sunscreen labels and buying based on their ratings for the last 2 years now. But, as my oldest daughter headed to day camp this past Monday, I headed out and stocked up on store-brand spray sunscreen to save money and time over the next 6 weeks of camp. Your article just set off all of the lightbulbs in my head! Who cares if it’s cheaper or easier if it’s harming her…. all of those spray cans are being returned tomorrow and we’re back to the better stuff. Thanks for reminding me to think LONG TERM!

  5. So I tweeted a link to this post this morning and my husband who reads my tweets decided to read your post too. He popped upstairs to my office with his cell phone in hand and the bottle of sunscreen in the other, it turns out the one he bought that caused the rash had Oxybenzone in it. He immediately downloaded the app that you linked to and is currently at the grocery store reading labels on every sunscreen and hasn’t found a single one that didn’t have it. He’s heading to the pharmacy next. So thank you Katja. This post was awesome.

  6. I’ve read several articles like this on sunscreen this year. I’m glad I spent a little more on the one I chose for our family as it seems to be on the better options list. None of the info about the FDA regulation or lack thereof really surprises me. Just look at what they allow us to ingest in our foods.

  7. This post is fantastic timing. A week ago my husband purchased a new sunscreen for the kids. Our son immediately broke out in a rash all over his little body. I’m now researching to find a new one for him, we had normally used baby sunscreens and had no problems, but this was an adult sunscreen and definitely did not agree with him. I’m off to look at what was in it.

  8. This is very helpful info, as the daycare requires that I sent sunscreen to school with both of my boys (which I’m glad about), but although the kind I bought says its meant for babies/kids I’ll certainly be taking a second look at those active ingredients!

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