Last week we discussed that the Food and Drug Administration has not finalized sunscreen safety standards since 1978. Therefore the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has reviewed the latest research on sunscreen. (Just type EWG in our search to see the other articles on the topic).
Despite the unknowns about sunscreen efficacy, public health agencies still recommend using sunscreens, just not as your first line of defense against the sun. The EWG recommends using sunscreens, but also look for shade, wear protective clothing, and avoid the noontime sun before relying solely on suntan lotions.
Here is just some of the EWG Sunscreen Hall of Shame:
Banana Boat Baby Max Protect, SPF 100
Sky-high SPF protects against sunburn but leaves skin exposed to damaging UVA rays. This is just one of at least 79 sunscreens on the market this year with high SPFs (greater than SPF 50+), this product protects babies from UVB radiation and the sunburns it causes but leaves them exposed to UVA radiation that penetrates deep into the skin. UVA is known to accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer (IARC 2009).
A standard industry sunscreen model estimates that the actual UVA protection factor for this sunscreen is only 9.3 – a far cry from 100 (BASF 2010). The best possible UVA protection in U.S. sunscreen lotions is currently about 20 (BASF 2010).
Sunscreen makers are waiting for the FDA to decide whether to approve a wider selection of chemicals that could help boost UVA protection. In the meantime, high-SPF products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburns but upping the risks of other kinds of skin damage. EWG recommends that consumers avoid products labeled with anything higher than “SPF 50+” and reapply sunscreen often, regardless of SPF.
Hawaiian Tropic Baby Creme Lotion SPF 50
Advanced UVA protection”? Not so much. Many U.S. sunscreens claim to provide “broad spectrum” protection that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, but the reality is that they don’t. Hawaiian Tropic Baby Creme Lotion SPF 50 lists “Advanced UVA protection” on its web site and “UVB/SPF with UVA” on its label. But it would earn only 1 star in FDA’s proposed 4 star UVA labeling scheme, according to EWG analysis using a standard industry sunscreen model.
Hawaiian Tropic is not required to back up its claim of “advanced UVA protection,” and the fact is that no currently available sunscreen chemical has been shown to block UVA rays effectively. Regulations in Japan and Australia prohibit making such claims altogether for products that provide such weak UVA protection (Diffey 2009), but there is no such restriction in the U.S.
Based on a review of partial label information published by online retailers, EWG researchers identified 218 beach sunscreens that claim “broad spectrum” or “full spectrum” protection for 2010. Many would garner only “low” or “medium” UVA protection in FDA’s proposed labeling system.
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection SPF 55
Mild as water.” Sure it is.
Can a product be “mild as water to the skin” if the label warns to “Stop use and ask a doctor if rash or irritation develops and lasts”? And certainly when swallowed this product is nothing like water: “Keep out of reach of children” and “get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away,” reads the warning label.
Panama Jack Naturals Baby Sunblock SPF 50
Potential hormone disruptor in baby sunblock.
Panama Jack advises users of this baby product to “apply liberally.”
Scientists who have researched a key sunscreen chemical in this sunblock, the potential hormone disruptor oxybenzone, advise the opposite: “It would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time, unless no alternative protection is available. There may be an additional concern for young children who have less well developed processes of elimination, and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults, with respect to systemic availability of a topically applied dose” (Hayden 1997).
Oxybenzone is readily absorbed through the skin; government studies have detected the compound in 97 percent of the population (Calafat 2008). In rodents, it mimics estrogen and increases the weight of the uterus (Schlumpf 2004). In people, higher maternal exposures to oxybenzone have been linked to decreased birth weight in girls (Wolff 2008).
This Panama Jack sunscreen is one of at least 26 sunscreens offered in the 2010 season with the word “baby” in their name and the chemical oxybenzone on their ingredient list. EWG advises consumers to avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone. Plenty of safer products are available.
One more thing: This so-called “natural” sunscreen contains at least ten compounds that do not occur in nature. Most are made from petroleum
Baby Blanket Tender Scalps Scalp Sunscreen Spray for Babies SPF 45+
“Instantly provides 45 times your babies’ natural protection,” claims the manufacturer. While that may be true for UVB rays and the red burns and blisters they cause, it’s not the case for UVA. This product would earn only one of four stars for UVA protection in FDA’s proposed rating system, according to EWG’s analysis. Your baby’s scalp may not get burned, but UVA rays could instantly penetrate deeply and cause skin damage and trigger cancer later in life. At least 18 other products EWG assessed claim “instant” or “immediate” protection.
For more EWG Hall of Shame please click here.
For more EWG Hall of Shame please click here.