What’s wrong (or right) with your sunscreen?



Summer is at our doorstep (crossing my fingers) at least here in the northern hemisphere and we are looking forward to having some sunlight in our lives. But the life-giving solar energy is also a source of carcinogens – UV and other rays that can cause cancer.

Sun protection products such as sunscreens, lotions, oils have been around for so long. But many health groups claim that many of these products are far from what they are. Do they really protect our skin from the sun or do they come with some carcinogens of their own? And why do many people who protect themselves still get skin cancer? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives a list of what is wrong with current sun protective measures some which we discuss here in detail.

Lack of enforceable standards and regulations. Currently sun protection products are sold as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in the US and other parts of the world. The US FDA started looking into the quality, efficacy and safety of sun protection products way back in 1978 but the only thing the regulatory body has to show till now are preliminary guidelines with the last draft updated in 2007, according to EWG.  Thus, EWG warns consumers that almost 1 in 8 sunscreens does not block UVA rays.

“Until the agency formally issues its rule, companies are not required to verify that their sunscreens work, including testing for SPF levels, checking waterproof claims or providing UVA protection.”

EWG cites products with unfounded claims of sun protection as well as products that contain dangerous ingredients in their “Hall of Shame”. Shockingly enough some of these products are even meant for babies!

Misleading information. As already mentioned before, many sun protection products put misleading information on their labels that gives the consumers a false sense of security. In addition, EWG criticized a well- known skin cancer advocacy group for endorsing some of these products and giving them its seal of approval without despite the lack of evidence of these products’ evidence. Here is what EWG has to say:

The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) lends its logo to hundreds of sun protection products. SCF approval is easy: just document that your product has an SPF of at least 15 and provide results of basic tests (for SPF, skin reactions and water and sweat resistance, if such claims are made). SCF also requires that companies pay a $10,000 donation by to join the Foundation’s “Corporate Council” in order to have their products approved.

SCF-approved products are not required to protect from UVA rays or to refrain from making the kinds of claims on safety and efficacy that FDA has proposed to prohibit in its 2007 draft sunscreen regulations. EWG’s review of products using the SCF seal found 45 sunscreens with SPF values exceeding the “SPF 50+” label that FDA proposed as the maximum in its 2007 sunscreen rule to avoid “misleading” consumers about how well these sunscreens protect from skin damage.

The Skin Cancer Foundation could ask its certified companies to comply with FDA’s 2007 draft regulations voluntarily – even FDA makes this request – but it apparently doesn’t, missing an opportunity to advance sunscreen protection. EWG learned from a foundation spokesperson that SCF plans to introduce a UVA requirement “in coming months” for companies seeking to earn the seal. It could not come soon enough.

Whereas the American Dermatological Association is still awaiting the US FDA’s final ruling, the EWG has come up with tips and recommendations on how to choose the right and safe sunscreen. Check out EWG’s 2010 Sunscreen Guide.

Photo credit: US FDA site

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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