May 22, 2019; By Leah Zerbe, MS, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES
It’s no secret that the sun (in moderate doses) provides all sorts of health benefits, including helping our bodies manufacture vital vitamin D. With beach season right around the corner, though, many people are looking for the best sunscreens to cut their risk of sun overexposure, sunburns and possibly skin cancer.
The issue? All sunscreens are not created equally. In fact, a 2019 report from Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that nearly two-thirds of sunscreens don’t work and/or contain concerning ingredients that are readily absorbed by the body. In fact, a recent study found that sunscreen chemicals hit the bloodstream within a day of using them, and at levels high enough to prompt a government investigation on safety.
This is EWG’s 13th Annual Guide to Sunscreens report, and the results show that while there have been major improvements over the last decade, the vast majority of sunscreens available for purchase in the U.S. still contain damaging chemicals or fail to offer enough protection against ultraviolet rays.
And here’s the part that really gets me: About half of the beach and sport sunscreens sold in the U.S. that EWG analyzed would not be allowed on the market in Europe due to inadequate protection against UVA rays.
But there is positive movement on the sunscreen front…
Are You Really Using the Best Sunscreens?
EWG has been pushing the Food and Drug Administration to update and improve its sunscreen regulations for years to better protect public health. Now, the FDA is finally taking up the issue and proposing big changes to sunscreens. The downside? This is all still in the works, so it doesn’t pertain to sunscreens on the market for the 2019 season.
As unbelievable as this may seem, FDA started updating sunscreen rules more than four decades ago.”In February, the agency at long last issued a proposed set of final rules. As written, the new rules would bring significant advances in both effectiveness and safety,” EWG reports. “But many big chemical manufacturers and sunscreen companies are lobbying heavily for a much weaker proposal that would likely leave the state of sunscreens in the U.S. largely unchanged.”
Stay tuned to see how this pans out for the 2020 season.
And then there’s the UVA dilemma…
A past EWG report cited research of Brian Diffey, PhD, emeritus professor of photobiology at the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University. He’s shown that, on average, U.S. sunscreens allow about three times more UVA rays to transfer through skin compared to European sunscreens. In fact, Americans sunscreen choices are fewer and often offer worse UVA protection compared to those available in the European Union.
This matters because UVA rays are more abundant than UVB rays, and UVA damage is more subtle than the sunburns induced mainly by UVB rays. UVA rays can damage your skin invisibly by suppressing the immune system and aging the skin over time; overexposure of these rays are also linked to the development of melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, too.
In a newly proposed rule from the FDA, the agency is finally voicing concern about the role of UVA rays in the development of skin cancer. It stated that “UVA exposure is a significant concern,” and high SPF products currently on the market may expose users to “excessively large UVA doses.”
Now, it’s important to note that there is no perfect sunscreen. Many contain harmful chemicals, and even mineral-based ones often contain nanoparticles, minute ingredients that can cross the blood-brain barrier and also harm aquatic life. Beyond that, sunscreen is unique compared to many other personal care products because you coat it thickly onto your skin, often multiple times a day. You don’t get that type of hours-long, skin-absorbing exposure with something like, say, shampoo you quickly wash off.
That’s why it’s very important to look for safer sunscreens if you use them and to recognize that you can’t only rely on sunscreens alone to prevent sun overexposure.
“No product is going to be fully protective and no product will last on your skin for more than two hours max,” explains Lunder. She says thickly applying sunscreen coatings, reapplying every time you’re out of the water and choosing a better product to begin with are all key. But other sun smart methods to avoid overexposures are a must. More on those later.
In the EWG’s 2019 best sunscreens report, the group analyzed the ingredients and labeling claims more than 1,300 products with SPF, including 750 sport and beach sunscreens. So what are the best sunscreens out there? Let’s take a look…
For the original article and the full list of sunscreens, please click this hyperlink: The Best Sunscreens of 2019