Summer’s here and strong sun in Hawaii means higher risk for skin problems, but which sunscreens really work, especially on children and people with sensitive skin? The Environment Working Group (EWG) recently released its ratings of beach and sport sunscreens.
EWG reviewed over 500 products and found only a few sunscreens worthy of top marks, including Badger Sunscreen for Face and Body Unscented SPF 30, California Baby Sunscreen Lotion Unscented SPF 30 and UV Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+. The best sunscreens share a few factors common, according to their website:
Our top-rated sunscreens all contain the minerals zinc or titanium. They are the right choice for people who are looking for the best UVA protection without any sunscreen chemical considered to be a potential hormone disruptor. None of the products contain oxybenzone or vitamin A and none are sprayed or powdered.
What Doesn’t Work
The EWG took its ratings of sunscreens and created a list of the worst products as well, a sunscreen hall of shame. Products at the bottom of their list include Banana Boat Baby Max Protect SPF 100, Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Powder SPF 30 and Hawaiian Tropic Baby Creme Lotion SPF 50. The EWG especially scorns products claiming UVA protection that don’t deliver as well as powder products.
Coming Soon: New FDA Regulations on UVA Sunscreen
The FDA has been hashing out new guidelines for sunscreens since 2007. Currently UVB, the sun’s burning rays, are labelled using the SPF (sun protection factor) system. If a sunscreen claims SPF 30, that means that it takes 30 times as long to burn as it would without sunscreen. For example, a person who burns in five minutes unprotected would burn in 150 minutes wearing an SPF 30 sunscreen.
The problem is lack of a clear standard for labeling protection from UVA radiation, the kind that causes many cancers. Sunscreens will say on the package if they contain UVA protection, but their is no clear way for consumers to know exactly how much UVA protection the product actually contains. So the proposed guidelines would label UVA protection with a star rating system, where one star is the lowest and five stars the highest.
But the problem with the star rating system is that most dermatologists agree that the amount of UVA protection represented by three stars under the new rules is really the safe minimum. European regulators recognized this minimum and have taken a different approach to UVA labeling in sunscreens. In 2008, they established a safe minimum below which a product cannot claim UVA protection.
Today on KQED the program, Forum, aired a discussion of the issue of which sunscreens work best and what the proposed labeling to UVA protection really mean. The archived program is available here.