UCSF Sustainability Stories
New Environmental Working Group Sunscreen Guide: Play Safely in the Sun
June is here and that means more time to play in the sun. Just in time, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its 2017 Guide to Sunscreen. This year, EWG scientists investigated nearly 1,500 sun safety products. Almost 75 percent of the products they examined provide inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin. You can go HERE to see EWG’s recommended list of best beach and sport sunscreens. They also take a deeper dive into the best and worst sunscreens for kids. The reviews are linked to EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetic database.
The Good News and Bad News for Kids
When it comes to protecting your kids from the sun’s harmful rays, not all sunscreens are created equal. With confusing chemical names like zinc oxide, avobenzone and oxybenzone, it can be tough to tell the good from the bad. According to EWG, parents have some good choices, but there are other products they recommend avoiding. This year, 49 baby and kid sunscreens score a 1 (the highest rating) in it database. Of those, 30 are lotions. The other 19 are sunscreen sticks. However, based on their methodology, 46 products marketed to children earned an EWG sunscreen rating of 7 to 10, the worst scores for products in this year’s Sunscreen Guide.
Twelve of the worst sunscreens for kids and babies have several strikes against them: the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and SPFs above 50+. Five have an additional strike for being aerosol sprays that expose sensitive young lungs to potentially hazardous chemicals.
How the Rankings are Calculated
Product scores ranges from 1 to 10 and reflect both the degree of UV protection from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and the hazards of all ingredients on the label. EWG bases two-thirds of the overall score on a product’s UV protection and one-third of the score is based on toxicity concerns of listed ingredients.
When I looked up my new Alba Botanica Soothing Pure Lavender sunscreen, it is rated 3 because it provides less UV protection and includes several ingredients of concern. The Alba Sport Mineral Sunscreen scored higher, with a score of 2, because it has less ingredients of concern and higher UV protection. If I had remembered to check the Healthy Living App while at the store, I could have selected the product with a better score.
When selecting a sunscreen, EWG recommends avoiding the following:
• Oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting chemical;
• Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin;
• Sprays and powders that may pose inhalation risks; and
• SPF values exceeding 50+.
Sunscreens with one of these factors are rated no better than 3 (yellow, meaning “moderate hazard”). Sunscreens with two or more significant concerns are rated no better than 7 (red, meaning “high hazard”), and sunscreens with SPF concerns and ingredient hazards rate 10 in its database.
Why Avoid Vitamin A?
The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A, Retinyl palmitate, to 14% of beach and sport sunscreens, 15% of moisturizers with SPF, and 6% of lip products with SPF in this year’s database. It is an antioxidant that combats skin aging., but studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions that contain vitamin A or retinyl palmitate, which is also called retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinol.
Don’t Depend on Sunscreen Alone
According to EWG, the rate of melanoma diagnosis is on the rise. The consensus among scientists is that sunscreens alone cannot reverse this trend. In addition to a good sunscreen wear clothes, find shade, wear sunglasses, plan around the sun, don’t get burned, and check UV index.