The Scary Truths About Sunscreen

Before you slather up make sure you're getting the protection you're paying for!

It's summer! Summer means you're going to be spending lots of time outside - whether it's doing an outdoor bootcamp or just hanging out on the beach in your bikini!

By now you've heard the warnings, spending time outside without sunscreen leads to everything from skin cancer to wrinkles so you've probably grabbed some SPF and thought you were protected....

Well it turns out you might be wrong! A nonprofit research organization reviewed almost 1,400 sunscreens last year and found that only 8 percent met their standards for preventing skin cancer and signs of aging.

How can you ensure that your sunscreen is giving you and your family the protection it needs from the sun? 

The "F" in SPF might be for "false promises"

For 30 years SPF has been the measurement that people use to choose their sunscreen. SPF or "Sun Protection Factor" is the number of minutes you can be exposed to sunlight without burning - the higher the SPF the longer you can be exposed without reapplying.

The SPF rating only refers to protection against UVB rays - the kind of sunlight that causes burning and some kinds of skin cancer.  SPF does not protect against UVA rays, which are the kinds of rays that penetrate deeper into the skin causing the dreaded wrinkles and some of the deadlier kinds of skin cancer.

The FDA is trying to change all of this

Sunscreen is a 680 million dollar annual industry. Despite the rampant technological advancements in sun protection the FDA hasn't changed their rules for what can be said on sunscreen labels in 33 years - until now.

As part of the new labeling guidelines you'll be able to identify sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. There will also be stricter about the kinds of claims that sunscreens can make about their durability since all sunscreens will eventually wear off or lose effectiveness after exposure to water.

What to look for on your labels:

  • Sunscreens labeled "broad spectrum" which means they protect against both UVA and UVB 
  • Label sunscreens as "water resistant" but then they must specify the exact amount of time that they will hold up when exposed to water

What you won't be seeing on your labels:

  • Label sunscreens as "sweatproof" or "waterproof"
  • Label sunscreens higher than SPF 50+ since higher SPFs have been proven to offer little more protection than SPF 50
  • Label sunscreens as "sunblock" since no sunscreen actually blocks 100% of all rays

Other Scary Truths & Things to Look for

The newest buzz around sunscreen focuses on the sunscreen actually causing cancer. Most doctors agree that the dangers of going in the sun without the sunscreen far outweigh the potential dangers of the cream but here are a few things to look for - and avoid - in your sunscreen.

Avoid: Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A)

This chemical is form of vitamin A which has started popping up in sunscreens to "minimize the aging effects of the sun".  In fact, the only FDA approved wrinkle fighterRetinol is a highly potent animal form of Vitamin A.

Researchers with the National Toxicology Program ran a study which showed that using this ingredient may actually increase the development of tumors and lesions on skin which is exposed to sunlight. The animals used the study developed these cancerous symptoms 21% faster than the animals who weren't exposed - after only nine minutes of midday sun exposure daily!

Retinyl Palmitate is used in at least 40 percent of American sunscreens so check your labels and choose a brand that's free of this potentially harmful ingredient.

Avoid:  Oxybenzone and Octinoxate

These chemical blocks are common allergens and lead to allergic contact dermatitis or photocontact dermitis (rashes that occur when chemicals are on the skin and exposed to sunlight!) - they have also led to "hormone" disruption in lab animals.

These ingredients when washed off in rivers and oceans are also killing hard corals which negatively impact biodiversity and reef ecosystems. In fact if you're swimming in anything other than a pool it will help the environment if you choose a block that doesn't include these ingredients or parabens and camphor derivatives.

Look For: Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide,  Avobenzone (a.k.a. Parsol 1789) or Ecamsule (a.k.a. Mexoryl SX)

 These are the ingredients that will help you battle UVA rays. Ecamsule - used in European and Canadian sunscreens for years - is almost 4 times more protective then Avobenzone.

Look For: An expiration date

Sunscreens expire - especially when exposed to heat which breaks down the chemical ingredients. Check the expiration date and toss it if it smells off or the consistency changes!

  • Dena Stern (Dena)


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