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Look Close at Sunscreens for Safer Fun in the Sun

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When our busy families are enjoying the summer sun, are we doing enough to protect our children’s tender skin as well as their long-term health?  The answer depends on who you listen to.  The US Food and Drug Administration recently announced new guidelines for sunscreen safety, which won’t be enforceable on store shelves for at least another year.

The FDA is allowing sunscreens that protect against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to use a label “Broad Spectrum.”  If sunscreens also have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, they can state that when properly used, they reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.  The upper limit on advertised sunscreen protection will be “50+” because the FDA says it’s not clear that a rating higher than that offers additional protection.  Sunscreen makers won’t be able to advertise “waterproof” products when they must be reapplied after swimming.

The watchdog Environmental Working Group criticizes the FDA for not doing more to protect consumers.  It points out that US standards for sunscreens are some of the weakest in the world.  EWG says some products labeled “Broad Spectrum” may still not be providing enough UVA protection.  Then there’s concern about side effects of certain ingredients.  Of particular concern to some scientists is the continued use of ingredients like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A).  Oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen that scientists say can penetrate the skin.  The EWG reports “New government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with vitamin A-laced creams.”

The EWG recently analyzed dozens of new sunscreen products on the market and is making the information free to consumers.  “Because the FDA has failed to offer good guidance to consumers on sunscreen safety, EWG has stepped in once again,” said EWG senior scientist Sonya Lunder. “Search our guide of more than 1,700 products and see how your favorite fares. Using safe and effective sunscreen is paramount when heading outdoors, especially during the summer months.”

It’s really up to parents to look beyond marketing hype, do some research before shopping, and then read the labels.


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