Shining a Light on Sunscreen

Did you know the sunscreen you purchase at the local drugstore might not actually provide the SPF that the manufacturer claims? Or that the product probably contains endocrine-disrupting chemicals and is most likely not a healthy choice for you and your family? Most people don’t.

With these revelations in mind, here are some other important facts about sunscreen that you should know:

• The FDA recently passed new rules about labeling, but these may actually make things worse for consumers. For example, sunscreens can claim “broad-spectrum” coverage, even without research.

•Sunscreen doesn’t prevent cancer. Most scientists and public health agencies, including the FDA itself, have found very little evidence that sunscreen prevents most types of skin cancer.

• Higher SPF levels don’t provide more safety. Sunscreens claiming 50+ do not provide greater protection than one with 30, and they are much more toxic.

• Avoid sunscreen containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate or retinol. These ingredients have been shown in federal studies to speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. Not exactly healthy skin care!

• Europeans have safer options. Much like food regulation, the European Union is way ahead of the U.S. It has banned over 1,300 chemicals, whereas the FDA has only banned 11. European sunscreen offers safer and superior protection.

• Some sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and can cause skin allergies. In fact, the most popular ingredient in chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone, is a hormone-disrupting chemical. And it only blocks UVB anyway. It does not protect against UVA at all! Many sunblocks are petroleum-based and have petroleum-based fragrances, which can cause allergies, among other problems.

•Mineral-based sunscreen provides more protection. We need to protect against both UVA and UVB. UVA is complicated, but zinc and titanium offer broad-spectrum protection against it. Chemical sunscreens only block a portion of the UVA spectrum. Due to the new FDA rules mentioned above, labels will be very misleading, promising broad-spectrum coverage when there isn’t any.

• No company worth considering will make outlandish claims about being “waterproof.” Any company that can beat water and sweat is using something fishy (and probably endocrine-disrupting). You must reapply sunscreen.

How do you choose a safe sunscreen?

• Look for titanium or zinc oxide-based sunscreens.

• Choose non-nano products (the label should say what the size of the particle is).

• Look for unscented products or those scented only with essential (not fragrance) oils.

• Choose lotion- or cream-based sunscreens (not liquids or solids).

• Choose broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB.

• If getting a national brand, make sure the EWG rating is between zero and two.

Lily Shahar Kunning is an herbalist and the owner of Clintonville’s Boline Apothecary.