Still squeezing the last gloopy drops out of last year’s sunscreen bottle? Throw it out. It’s expired, for one thing. But you may also want to switch brands after reading the 2017 sunscreen report issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which finds that the majority of products on the market are ineffective, contain harmful ingredients, or both.
EWG researchers examined the safety and effectiveness of almost 1500 products, including sunscreen, moisturizers, and lip balms with SPF values.
The results were not reassuring. “The vast majority of sunscreens available to Americans aren’t as good as they should be,” senior research analyst Sonya Lunder said in a statement. In their report, Lunder and her colleagues emphasize the differences between sunscreen consumer protection in the United States and elsewhere.
“This year, we estimate that nearly every sunscreen we reviewed passes the FDA test,” the EWG researchers write, "but that about half of them would not offer enough UVA protection to be sold in Europe.”
The FDA has a cap on the percentage of active ingredients allowed, and most products use the same one, which means that a sunblock with SPF 100 may be no more effective than one with SPF 30. To get around this, some American products artificially inflate their SPF rating by using chemicals to prevent sunburn’s redness without actually protecting our skin from sun damage.
“High SPF is a marketing gimmick,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. “SPF values over 50 mislead people into thinking they are completely protected from sunburn and long-term skin damage. But instead, they may encourage people to spend more time in the sun, exposing themselves to more, not less, ultraviolet rays.”
Many of the sunscreens also contain ingredients like oxybenzone, which can affect our hormones, and vitamin A, which can make us even more sensitive to the Sun.
Some of the EWG's best-rated sunscreens:
1. Tom's of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion
2. Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen
3. Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen
4. Badger All Season Face Stick
5. Kiss My Face Organics Face & Body Sunscreen
Some of the best moisturizers with SPF:
1. Cetaphil Redness Relieving Daily Facial Moisturizer
2. The Body Shop Aloe Soothing Moisture Lotion, Sensitive Skin
3. La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream
4. Eucerin Daily Hydration Moisturizer and Sunscreen
5. Aveda Daily Light Guard Defense Fluid
Some of the worst for kids:
1. Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Kids
2. CVS Health Children's Sunstick Sunscreen
3. Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen
4. Coppertone Foaming Lotion Sunscreen Kids Wacky Foam
5. Equate Baby Sunscreen Lotion
To keep yourself and your skin safe, the EWG suggests the following steps.
First, recognize that sunscreen should not be your only form of sun protection. Sunglasses, shade, and hats are often far more effective.
“There is little scientific evidence to suggest that sunscreen alone reduces cancer risk,” the authors write, “particularly for melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Despite a growing awareness of the dangers of exposure to the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, and a multibillion-dollar sunscreen industry, melanoma rates have tripled over the past three decades.”
Second, use the guide to find the best products for you and your family. Stay away from oxybenzone and vitamin A. Avoid sprays, which just don’t work as well as we hope they will.
Third, apply liberally and often. You should use about a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen each time.
Finally, don’t forget to replace your sunscreen twice a year. After six months or so, the active ingredients begin to lose their punch.
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