By Nina Wu
Summer is here, and the Environmental Working Group's 2011 Sunscreen Report is out.
You probably think that a sunscreen with a higher Sun Protection Factor (SPF), say 50 or more, is better. But that's not necessarily the case, according to EWG, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C. which says those "sky-high SPF claims" give users a false sense of security, making them wait longer before reapplying.
The EWG also recommends a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection.
Many sunscreens — three of five U.S. sunscreens (including those with SPF factors 50 and higher) — wouldn't be acceptable in Europe due to inadequate UVA protection, according to EWG, where manufacturers voluntarily comply with a standard for meaningful UVA protection.
The EWG recommends avoiding potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, which is listed in many of the sunscreens on store shelves. Instead, EWG recommends sunscreens with zinc and titanium, particularly for children and people with sensitive skin seeking UVA protection.
There are environmental impacts when oxybenzone washes off into the ocean.
Nearly 90 brands, including CVS, Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Walgreens, and Aveeno now offer sunscreens with zinc and titanium. Still, you need to check the list of ingredients for each product under the brand names.
Another ingredient to watch out for is retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin, according to recent scientific research by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
The EWG recommends avoiding sunscreens with retinyl palmitate while more definitive research is under way.
For my baby, I bought a tube of thinkbaby (SPF 30+) and was glad to find it rated No. 1. Glad to see there are other options, too, including California Baby, Badger, COOLA Baby, Maui Naturals, TruKid and Alba Botanica Sun.
Questions? See answers to this list of FAQ. If only the FDA would make life simpler for consumers by making sure harmful chemicals weren't in sunscreens — unfortunately, there are no regulations over what gets put into sunscreens or the claims printed on the label.
EWG's fifth annual Sunscreen Guide rates 292 brands and 1,700 products. Look up your sunscreen to see how it rates here.