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New Guide Helps Consumers Sort Sunscreens

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Ready to slather on the sunscreen to say safer under hot, summer sun?  For those trying to follow conventional wisdom, it takes an extra dollop of information from a consumer watchdog group to get the complete sun safety picture.  The Environmental Working Group has released its 2013 Guide to Sunscreens.

EWG says only about a quarter of sunscreens in the US market do the job without creating other health concerns of their own.  Here’s a quick look at four cautions the group has for consumers:

*Avoid Sunscreen Sprays
These pose concerns about inhalation health risks.

*Avoid Oxybenzone
This ingredient gets into the bloodstream and asks like estrogen in our bodies, posing health concerns.

*Avoid Topical Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) 
A government study shows this could speed the growth of tumors on sun-exposed skin.

*Avoid 50+ SPFs
This provide a false sense of security about the amount of protection sunscreen can give.

EWG criticizes current US sunscreen standards about the term “broad spectrum” for not necessarily providing both adequate UVA as well as SPF protection.  This, despite the government allowing the “broad spectrum” claim on sunscreen packaging.  The new EWG consumer guide helps consumers find products that do the best job of protecting against both types of sun damage.  

Senior research analyst Sonya Lunder at EWG says, “Despite an increasing awareness of the sun’s risks, rates of melanoma — the deadliest skin cancer — have tripled over the past 35 years, with an annual increase of 1.9 percent per year since 2000.”  The causes for this are not entirely clear, nor is it clear that sunscreen use alone can prevent melanoma.

Researchers say serious childhood sunburns can greatly increase our risks of skin cancers later in life.  So, sun protection for children is especially important.  And yet, most parents with young children under six months of age must find alternatives to sunscreen, asking a pediatrician first before using a skincare product.

As for all-around sun protection, Lunder sums up, “The best advice for concerned consumers is to use sun-protective clothing, stay in the shade to reduce intense sun exposure and schedule regular skin examinations by a doctor.  And turn to EWG’s guide to find the best sunscreens for skin that isn’t protected by clothing.”

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