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Risks of Sunscreen: New Report

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Risks of Sunscreen: New Report

In 1944 the first widely available sunscreen was put on the market. Called Red Vet Pet, for red veterinary petrolatum, it was a gross, sticky petroleum distillate goop with  limited effectiveness. Fast forward to 2010 and we are faced with more than 500 choices for sunscreen–but the surprising truth is this: beyond the knowledge that sunscreens prevent sunburns,  little else is known about the safety and efficacy of sunscreen lotions and sprays.

Research from the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) fourth annual Sunscreen Guide unearthed many disturbing facts that might tempt you to abandon sunscreen altogether–although despite the unknowns about their efficacy, it is still recommended to use sunscreens, just not as your first line of defense–EWG recommends shade,  protective clothing and avoiding the noontime sun.

As for sunscreens now available on the market, EWG researchers recommend only 39 of 500 beach and sport sunscreens. The reason? A surge in exaggerated SPF claims above 50 and new disclosures about potentially hazardous ingredients, in particular recently developed government data linking the common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A to accelerated development of skin tumors and lesions.

Here are some of the more surprising facts about sunscreen, adapted from the EWG report:

1. No proof that sunscreen prevents skin cancer.
The FDA’s 2007 draft sunscreen safety regulations say: “FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) agrees. IARC recommends clothing, hats and shade as primary barriers to UV radiation and writes that “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.

2. There’s some evidence that sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer for some people.
Some researchers have detected an increased risk of melanoma among sunscreen users. Scientists speculate that sunscreen users stay out in the sun longer and absorb more radiation overall, or that free radicals released as sunscreen chemicals break down in sunlight may play a role. One other hunch: Inferior sunscreens with poor UVA protection that have dominated the market for 30 years may have led to this surprising outcome. All major public health agencies still advise using sunscreens, but they also stress the importance of shade, clothing and timing.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

211 comments

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9:41AM PST on Jan 24, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

9:26PM PDT on Sep 21, 2011

I signed up for "meet Oprah" because it gave me free butterfly points. I am not a fan of Oprah, God bless her anyhow. lol

If I win, I'm going to give it away. Maybe I can meet one of the Care2 rainbow warriors. Now, that interests me!

9:22PM PDT on Sep 21, 2011

I knew there was something dangerous about sunscreen! I knew it. Yay, I'm intuitive.

Me, I carry a golf umbrella. That baby is huge! I'm not a lady walking down the street with exposed elbows.

And I munch on my almonds.

4:13PM PDT on Jun 25, 2011

Thanks!

6:53AM PDT on May 26, 2011

I would rather wear sun screen 6 weeks in a year than get burned, damaged skin.

1:42PM PST on Jan 30, 2011

Than You for sharing this interesting article Melissa. I checked the 39 suggested...seems like the baby ones have better protection +50. Still like Annie Bond's suggestions for making my own.

4:04PM PDT on Sep 13, 2010

thankyou for shareing

10:03AM PDT on Aug 26, 2010

Thanks. Best bet is to stay out the sun during the hottest time of day

10:31AM PDT on Jul 16, 2010

WOW!!! I had no idea the harm sunscreen can cause.

12:48AM PDT on Jul 3, 2010

thanks!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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