The first official day of summer is days away. In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice officially begins on June 21st at 7:28 am EDT. As the weather warms and we shed our clothes, many of us are starting to think about sunscreen. Before you reach for your favourite brand, the Environmental Working Group published its 4th annual Sunscreen Guide. If you have time to read this year’s report, it is full of interesting and concerning cautions. If you do not, here is my “Cliff Notes” version.
The EWG tested approximately 1400 products with SPF – beach and sun lotions, lip balms, moisturizers, sprays and creams. 1361 of those products received poor marks. Only 39 earned the highest green rating. That means they recommend only 8% from the 1400 tested. Kind of scary isn’t it?
So why did the majority of beach and sport sunscreens rate so poorly? The EWG’s explanation, “A surge in exaggerated SPF claims above 50 and new disclosures about potentially hazardous ingredients, in particular recently developed government data linking the common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A to accelerated development of skin tumours and lesions.”
The EWG recommends we avoid two chemicals – oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (vitamin A). The research regarding vitamin A/accelerated cancer connection is not conclusive. They suggest we avoid retinyl palmitate as long as there is doubt about its safety. Oxybenzone is a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates skin and enters the bloodstream.
Another interesting read is Sunscreen Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths. Here are a few points.
– The EWG reports there is “no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer”. (?)
– There is some evidence that some sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest forms of skin cancer in some people”. (what?!)
– There are more and more 50+ SPF products and higher on the market…”but no proof they’re better”.
If you hauled out your old sunscreen from last summer, do not throw it away just yet. It is easy to find its score on the website. Just type in the name and chances are the results will be there – hundreds and hundreds of products were tested. Hopefully the brand you currently use is one of the safer products and does not appear in the Hall of Shame report. If you are shopping for a new SPF products check out the top EWG recommended beach and sport sunscreens, lip balm, moisturizers and makeup.
I have not found a safe sunscreen that my family likes. We tried a few of the low hazard products on the EWG list with disappointing results. Last summer was particularly frustrating. I wasted money on a popular, highly recommended sunscreen at the health food store. It was thick, sticky and did not absorb or blend into our skin. We looked like a travelling mime troop at the park.
So…this summer I have started my sunscreen search again. I am also looking into sun protective clothing. (My husband and children are groaning and rolling their eyes!) The EWG suggests the best protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays is clothing, hats and shade. Sunscreen is a secondary means of protection.
If you have a favourite sunscreen or any sun safe strategies, I would love to hear them.