In The News: Environmental Working Group Releases 2012 Sunscreen Guide

Reader Contribution by Justine Patton
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Today, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its 2012 Sunscreen Guide, and the results aren’t great for sunscreen companies across the country. According to the report, only 25 percent of the 800 tested sunscreens effectively protect against the sun without the use of potentially harmful ingredients.

Many popular sunscreen lotions do not meet the safety requirements issued by
the Environmental Working Group in its 2012 Sunscreen Guide.
Courtesy Flickr/Photo by
Joe Shlabotnik

With hundreds upon hundreds of sunscreens to choose from, picking one may seem like an overwhelming task. To ease your summertime struggles, here are the dos and don’ts of sunscreen shopping, according to information from the EWG.

• DO shop for sunscreen. It may be easy to just throw up your hands in frustration and walk out of the lotion aisle empty-handed. However, that would be a mistake. Sunscreens are chemical agents that help prevent the two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, from reaching and damaging the skin. If these rays get to the skin, they can damage the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.

• DON’T buy sprays or powders. Shop for creams instead. Sprays and powders have not been researched thoroughly, and they may leave tiny sunscreen particles that are unsafe to breathe in the air.

• DO read the ingredient labels. The EWG has identified two chemicals to avoid when shopping for sunscreen: oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Oxybenzone is present in 56 percent of sunscreens on the market. It is added to sunscreens to help soak up ultraviolet light. However, some research suggests that oxybenzone can be absorbed through the skin, where it may cause hormone disruption and skin cancer. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of oxybenzone in products for those six months and older. However, like Mom always said, better safe than sorry. Retinyl palmitate is a type of vitamin A that is often added to sunscreens. However, when tested on mice, researchers found that this chemical increased skin cancer risk on sun-exposed skin. 

Purchasing sunscreen with an SPF above 50 may leave you with a false sense of security,
leading to sunburn and skin damage.
Courtesy Flickr/Photo by

• DON’T buy sunscreens with an SPF above 50. If you purchase a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 50, you may put too much faith in the product, go too long before applying it or hang out in the sun a little too long, resulting in sunburn and skin damage. Instead, buy a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or lower. Then, apply one ounce (about a shot glass full) of the lotion 30 minutes before going outside and at least every two hours thereafter. Be sure to put more on after swimming, excessive sweating or towel drying.

• DO purchase sunscreens labeled “broad spectrum.” The “broad spectrum” label means the lotion protects skin against both kinds of sunburn-causing UVB rays and also UVA radiation that causes premature skin damage and aging.

• DON’T buy sunscreens combined with bug spray. For starters, sunscreens often contain penetration enhancers. So, not only is your body absorbing the sunscreen, it is also potentially absorbing the pesticide–no bueno! Also, by using a spray that is supposed to double as a bug repellant and sunscreen, you may end up having to reapply the product more often than usual.

For more information on sun safety tips or to view the best and worst sunscreens of 2012 according to the EWG, click here.

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