Thursday, July 18, 2013

Is Your Sunscreen Dangerous?

wear sunscreen

What Is a Sunscreen
Just in time for a really hot summer comes this report from the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, about how sunscreen choices impact your life and, perhaps more importantly, the life of your perpetual motion machine, otherwise known as your offspring.

The EWG is arguably the premier resource in toppling old health myths and exposing new ones. Sunscreen, a topical application formulated with various ingredients, was almost unheard of in 1970. As the ozone layer thins, however, it becomes increasingly important that individuals use it, and use it wisely, to prevent skin cancer. This is particularly true for the under 5 group, whose skins are very sensitive to all kinds of environmental and chemical harm.

Skin Cancer Stats
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, diagnosed in more than 3.5 million individuals seeing their doctor for skin problems and complaints. During the period 1992 to 2006, the incidence of non-melanoma (malignant) skin cancers rose by 77 percent, and resulted in more new cases of cancer than all the combined instances of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.

It is also the easiest form of cancer to treat and cure, providing it is addressed early and vigorously. Failure to do so can lead to disfigurement and even death, particularly among those with fair skin. To determine how likely you are to get skin cancer, read the Centers for Disease Control list of risk factors:

  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • A history of indoor tanning
  • A history of sunburns early in life
  • Naturally pale skin, even among brunettes
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun
  • Blond or red hair
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Certain types of moles and their prevalence on your skin
  • Extreme or extended exposure to the sun whether working or playing
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun

FDA Regulations Fails to Improve Products

Unfortunately, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, drafted new rules covering sun screen formulas in December of 2012, the actual impact on sunscreens is nil. In fact, under these new rules, consumers could actually be getting more dangerous products than before. This is because the FDA now allows sunscreen manufacturers to claim that their products offer “broad spectrum” shielding against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, when in fact only a vanishingly small percentage actually do.

This latter group – 25 percent – does block harmful rays, but doesn’t always contain products that are safe for use, and the SPF number is not a reliable guide to how well a certain sunscreen works. Again, according to the CDC, even where sunscreens or sun lotions work well, there is a possibility of developing photosensitivity with medicines you or a loved one may be taking.

These medications, available almost entirely by prescription, include: acetazolamide, amiodarone, certain antibiotics (fluoroquinolones like Cipro,  sulfonamides – which have been around since the 1930s – and tetracyclines, especially demeclocycline and doxycycline for treating infections and acne). This list of possibly incompatible medicines also includes furosemide, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), phenothiazines, sulfonylureas, thiazide diuretics, and the fungal drug voriconazole.

How to Pick a Winner (Sunscreen, That Is)

The EWG has a list of approved sunscreens and offers several caveats for choosing “safe” sun tanning lotions. First, look for formulations that have fewer, rather than more, ingredients. Corporate America still has not woken up to the fact that consumers are no long engaged in feeling that they get more if the manufacturer puts in more (ingredients, that is).

Second, the SPF (sun protection factor) rating is not an indication of how well a sunscreen works. An SPF of 15 blocks approximately 94 percent of the sun’s harmful rays; SPF 30 blocks about 97. Even an SPF rating of 45 only blocks 98 percent of UVB radiation, and none block UVAs – which many dermatologists and oncologists feel are a leading cause of skin damage, immune system malfunctions and perhaps even melanoma.

Above all, avoid sunblocks that contain oxybenzone, a suspected hormone disruptor and one of the chemicals increasingly found in municipal wastewater treatment plants. This means, in the long view, that fish and other aquatic species are enjoying your sunscreen. What they probably don’t enjoy is its tendency to make species sterile. 

What it does to coral reefs, a vital part of the aquatic food chain – well, you probably don’t want to know.  


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