Consumer Group: Sunscreens are Snake Oil

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit focused on environmental advocacy, has released its fourth annual Sunscreen Guide. This guide measures the safeness and efficacy of sunscreens. This year, EWG found that only 8% of the 1,400 sunscreens they tested is good to use.

EWG claims that sunscreens exaggerate SPF claims. They also add toxic ingredients like a skin-tumor causing form of Vitamin A and hormone disruptor oxybenzone. Here’s what the EWC found:

Products with high SPF ratings sell a false sense of security because most people using them stay out in the sun longer, still get burned (which increases risk of skin cancer) and subject their skin to large amounts of UVA radiation, the type of sunlight that does not burn but is believed responsible for considerable skin damage and cancer. High SPF products, which protect against sunburn, often provide very little protection against UVA radiation.

This year, new concerns are being raised about a vitamin A compound called retinyl palmitate, found in 41 percent of sunscreens. The FDA is investigating whether this chemical, when applied to skin that is then exposed to sunlight, may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk. FDA data suggest that vitamin A may be photocarcinogenic, meaning that in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer. The evidence against vitamin A is not conclusive, but as long as it is suspect, EWG recommends that consumers choose vitamin A-free sunscreens.

EWG has again flagged products with oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream. Biomonitoring surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected oxybenzone in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans tested.

Some blame falls on the FDA, which has yet to finalize regulations for sunscreens promised since 1978. FDA officials estimate that the regulations may be issued next October – but even then, they are expected to give manufacturers at least a year, and possibly longer, to comply with the new rules. That means the first federally regulated sunscreens won’t go on store shelves before the summer of 2012.

If you want safe sunscreen, head to the natural products section of your grocery store. The EWG said that mineral sunscreens by brands including Badger, Jason, Desert Essence, and Soleo Organics were safest. If slathering ground up titanium dioxide on your skin doesn’t appeal to you, the EWG also recommended some non-mineral sunscreens by Bullfrog, Coppertone, and others. Meanwhile, many popular products by big brands like Neutrogena and Banana Boat make their don’t-buy list. See their full set of recommendations here.

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