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Be Sun Savvy! Know Which Sunscreen Ingredients to Look For - and Avoid


Choosing a safe sunscreen product is complicated. The Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Sunscreen Guide sheds some light on what to look for in sunscreens.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their 2012 Sunscreen Guide. This year 25 percent of the sunscreen products tested met with the EWG’s stringent approval standards. This is a substantial increase from their 1 in 12 approval rating in 2010.

Choose a children’s product
The EWG found that many products marketed for children contain safer, more effective ingredients than those found in products formulated for adults. Choosing a sunscreen formulated for babies, children, or kids is a good bet for adults because kids’ products are less likely to contain some of the ingredients we should avoid, such as

  • fragrance
  • oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting chemical

Read labels
But just because a product says it’s made for children, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any different from adult products. The EWG found 16 brands of kids’ sunscreens that contained the exact same ingredients as the brand’s adult products. (Check out the EWG report for details.)

Get UVA protection
We’ve heard for years that we should protect our skin from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays, but EWG’s latest report reveals that the majority of products tested contain inadequate UVA protection. In fact, 56 brands of beach and sport sunscreens contained no active UVA ingredients at all! The term broad-spectrum may not always be truthful.

Try mineral sunscreens
Children, those with sensitive skin, and people who want to avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals in their sunscreens can use mineral sunscreens. These products contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and are safer alternatives to non-mineral products.

Avoid retinyl palmitate
A form of vitamin A, this popular ingredient was found in one-quarter of the sunscreens tested this year. Research by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that skin cancer risk may be increased when this chemical is applied to sun-exposed skin.

Don’t buy into high SPF claims
The FDA is considering banning sunscreen products with a sunburn protection factor (SPF) rating higher than 50. Studies show that people who use high SPF products are exposed to as many harmful UV rays as people who use products with lower SPFs. A high SPF rating may lull sun worshippers into a false sense of security, staying in the sun too long before reapplying sunscreen.

Avoid sprays and powders
These products become airborne during use, enabling them to travel into the lungs where they may eventually cause lung damage. Their toxicity is currently being studied by the FDA.

To find how your favourite products rate and to find a safe sunscreen, check out the EWG's 2012 Sunscreen Guide.

Tomorrow we’ll focus on sun safety tips and look at whether sunscreens really prevent skin cancer.



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