Safe Sunscreen Guide for 2012

by Teresa J. Mitchell

SunscreenSummer's approaching and we're faced once again with the sunscreen dilemma. Which one should you use?

Most experts agree that it's a good idea to use sunscreens to protect your skin from the sun. They disagree on just how well those products work.

Some studies even suggest that some forms of skin cancer, occur more often among frequent sunscreen users.

The FDA extended the labeling deadline for improving information on sunscreen packaging. It had been mandated to take effect by summer, 2012.

According to these guidelines, if the products meets specific FDA criteria it will be allowed to claim "If used as directed with other sun protection measures, decreases the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging caused by the sun."

Today, sunscreen makers can claim all sorts of benefits, from preventing skin aging and damage to protecting from skin cancer. By December 2012, products must meet FDA specification to make claims on packages.

Does Sunscreen Prevent Cancer

Studies show that regular sunscreen use protects against sunburn and reduces the risk of squamous-cell carcinoma. This slow-growing, treatable disease accounts for 16 percent of all skin cancers.

Some researchers have observed an increased risk of malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, among sunscreen users. Experts aren't sure why. They suggest the cause could be more time spent in the sun, chemicals that cause gene damage, formulas that are less effective than claimed or changes in the atmosphere that allow more ultraviolet light exposure.

The FDA takes the position that to date, there are no clinical studies demonstrating that use of any sunscreen alone can prevent skin cancer.

Good and Bad Chemicals in Your Sunscreen

Look for Zinc and Titanium

The EWG's top-rated sunscreens contain the minerals zinc or titanium. These chemical offer the the best UVA protection without contributing a chemical considered to be a potential hormone disruptor.

Avoid Vitamin A and Oxybenzone

At present, the sunscreen industry adds vitamin A to 25 percent of all sunscreens. Vitamin A is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. While true for lotions and night creams used indoors, it might not be safe for use in the sun.

Scientists have known for some time that vitamin A can encourage excess skin growth. In sunlight, it can form free radicals that damage DNA.

Recently available data from an FDA study indicates that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, might speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to skin in the presence of sunlight.

The Environmental Working Group recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens with vitamin A. Look for "retinyl palmitate" or "retinol" on the label.

Best Sunscreens for 2012

With the uncertainties surrounding sunscreens, you might be tempted to give up on them altogether. Despite the unknowns, public health agencies recommend using sunscreens. You can choose an effective and safe sunscreen for your family.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer says, "Sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin cancer prevention and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the sun." Instead, let your first line of defense against harmful radiation be shade, protective clothing and avoiding the midday sun.

Choosing a Safe Sunscreen

The ideal sunscreen for your family will protect from the sun's rays without causing skin damage or containing harmful chemicals that could be absorbed. Choose a product that meets these safe sunscreen guidelines.

• Doesn't contain oxybenzone
• Doesn't contain Vitamin A
• Has zinc or titanium
• Is not micronized
• Does not contain nanoscale particles of those metals
• Is not in spray or powdered form

To learn which sunscreens made the list, visit EWG's save sunscreen guide for 2012.

Are you ready for summer? Do you worry about the safety of sunscreens?