New Study Probes Sunblock

For decades, the importance of using sunscreen has been the mantra of many medical professionals. A new report from the Environmental Working Group, however, says that the vast majority of sunscreens contains unsafe chemicals. How can you know if what you are using is safe?

Woman applying sunscreen to child

Don't forget the sunscreen! How many times have you heard or said those very words? Probably countless times, but the good intentions behind wearing sunscreen may be lost in a sea of unsafe ingredients. The Environmental Working Group recently released their 2010 Sunscreen Guide, which details the landscape of sunscreens available.

Researchers for the EWG evaluated 500 beach and sport sunscreens for the report, but only 8 percent (that's just 39!) were recommended by the group.

Why so few?

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The EWG found unsafe chemicals in many sunscreens, including a form of vitamin A (called retinyl palmitate) and oxybenzone.

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According to the report, a number of sunscreens come with exaggerated SPF claims. Furthermore, many contain ingredients that could be hazardous. Those ingredients include Vitamin A, which new government data suggests could accelerate the development of skin lesions and tumors. "This year, new concerns have arisen about a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, found in 41 percent of sunscreens. The FDA is investigating whether this compound may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk when applied to skin exposed to sunlight," says the report.

The report also cautions against sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, which is said to disrupt hormones.

research your sunscreen

Buying sunscreen isn't as simple as picking up a bottle at the drugstore . Doing your research before buying is critical to ensuring that the one you purchase is safe. The EWG says, however, that sunscreen shouldn't be used as the primary method of protection from the sun. The group says hats, protective clothing and shade are more reliable.

Does that mean you should skip the sunscreen altogether? Definitely not, says the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. It remains an effective way to combat dangerous UV rays. "While the ASDS encourages the US Food and Drug Administration to finalize proposed sunscreen labeling to help consumers select the type that will best meet their needs, we strongly support the use of sunscreen," says Darrell Rigel, MD, past president of the ASDS and clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. "Sunscreen products have been thoroughly studied, tested and used safely for more than 30 years to protect consumers against the harmful effects of UV radiation contained in sunlight, including skin cancer."

Is your sunscreen safe?

Wondering if your sunscreen is safe? You can look up products in the EWG's database to see how it rates, but don't be too surprised if yours doesn't make the cut -- the vast majority don't. (I checked out the two that my family uses, and both scored poorly. We'll be changing ours ASAP.)

Next page: Top 21 safest sunscreens >>

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