What chemicals should I avoid when buying sunscreen and are there any safe sunscreen brands?
First, there are lots of other options besides using sunscreens to protect yourself from getting burned this summer, like wearing protective clothing, finding shade, and avoiding noon sun. Plus, there’s no consensus that sunscreen prevents skin cancer and in some cases it’s been shown to actually increase your risk! If you do use sunscreen, make sure what you put on your skin is safe and effective.
One great resource for information on safe sunscreens is the new 2013 Sunscreen Guide put out by The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC. Its scientists analyzed 500 sunscreens and reported that only 8%, or 39 were safe and effective. They found false advertising, unproven claims by manufacturers, and ingredients that haven’t been tested for safety.
EWG recommends the following when buying sunscreen:
- Don’t be fooled by high SPF. Anything higher than “SPF 50+” can tempt you to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburn but not other kinds of skin damage. The FDA says these numbers are misleading.
- Avoid Vitamin A-laced creams listed as “retinyl palmitate” on the label. New government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with vitamin A.
- Avoid the chemical oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body.
- Look for active ingredients zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. These substances protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any penetrating into the body.
- Skip sunscreens with insect repellent – if you need bug spray, buy it separately and apply it first.
- Avoid sprays and powders which cloud the air with tiny particles of sunscreen that may not be safe to breathe. Choose creams instead.
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