The Environmental Working Group released its 15th annual Guide to Sunscreens this week and in the nick of time. A recent poll found that one-third of Americans lack a basic understanding of sun safety and skin cancer. Since May is Skin Cancer Awareness month, it is the perfect time to address how to prevent this cancer that strikes 5 million Americans annually.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the rate of new melanoma cases among American adults has tripled since the 1970s, from 7.9 per 100,000 people in 1975 to 22.6 per 100,000 in 2017.
A recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology found that one-third of respondents said that they were unaware that tanning causes skin cancer. The majority of those in the dark about the deadly effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays were those born after 1996, often referred to as Generation Z.
The EWG recommends that people use sunscreens with a sun protection factor or SPF of between 30 and 50 to protect against sunburn and skin cancer.
This year, EWG researchers rated the safety and efficacy of more than 1,800 products that advertise sun protection – including recreational sunscreens, daily-use SPF products and lip balms with SPF – and found that only 25% of the products reviewed offer adequate protection and do not contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone, a potential hormone-disrupting chemical that is readily absorbed by the body.
“For 15 years, EWG has warned consumers about the health hazards linked to oxybenzone and other potentially harmful ingredients used in sunscreens,” said Nneka Leiba, EWG vice president of healthy living science. “It’s gratifying to continue to see companies reformulating their SPF products to move away from these concerning ingredients.”
The best-scoring recreational sunscreens on EWG’s list contain the mineral-based active ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both, since they have fewer health concerns and offer good sun protection. Zinc oxide especially provides good broad-spectrum protection and protection from both UVA and UVB rays, and it is stable in the sun.
“The majority of sunscreen products sold in the U.S. don’t offer adequate protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” said Carla Burns, EWG senior healthy living science analyst, who works on the Sunscreen Guide. “But the good news is there are more than 400 SPF products that meet our rigorous standards.”
Burns tells Newsmax that while there is often no difference between sunscreens targeted for the face versus products designed for the whole body, sunscreens made for babies and kids are good options for the whole family.
Sunscreen is not the only one tool in the sun safety toolbox – it can help protect the skin from sun damage but should never be a person’s only line of defense. Proper sun protection includes protective clothing, like a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and shade.
Here are some tips for choosing better sunscreens and staying safe in the sun:
- Avoid products with oxybenzone. This chemical is absorbed through the skin in large amounts and can affect hormone levels.
- Stay away from vitamin A. Government studies link the use of retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, to the formation of skin tumors and lesions when it’s applied to sun-exposed skin.
- Steer clear of sunscreens with SPF values higher than 50+, which may not provide increased UVA protection and can fool people into thinking they’re safe from sun damage.
- Avoid sprays. These popular products make it difficult to apply a thick and uniform coating on skin. They also pose inhalation concerns.
- Avoid intense sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Check products against EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens and avoid those with harmful additives.
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