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Are Sunscreens Safe?

by Julia McCartney on May 15, 2012

Protection from the sun is essential when spending time outdoors, but how safe is the sun protection that you choose to use? Keep reading to find out whether that bottle of sunscreen is as effective and safe as you thought it was.

Effectiveness of Sunscreen

WebMD notes that sunscreens may not always be as effective as consumers are lead to believe they are. Ineffectiveness and the presence of harmful chemicals are the two biggest concerns when it comes to sunscreens that are bottled and sold commercially. It is estimated that 60 percent of sunscreens are either not effective or are actually harmful to use because of chemical ingredients.

Sunscreens with protection under sun protection factor (SPF) 15 are generally considered ineffective against harmful rays. People may use sunscreens with a low SPF because they wish to protect against sun damage while obtaining a tan, but a low SPF can be considered to be as ineffective as wearing no sun protection at all. Sunscreens must be effective against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to protect the wearer. UVA rays are associated with skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer over time. UVB rays are the rays that cause a person to suffer a sunburn.

Sunscreen and the FDA

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has primarily kept out of the regulation of sunscreens in the past. Unfortunately, an increase in fraudulent claims about the effectiveness and safety of certain sunscreens has made it necessary for the FDA to step in and attempt to protect consumers when it comes to accurate labeling on sunscreen bottles.

THE FDA regulations regarding the labeling of sunscreens will take effect at the end of 2012. The new regulations only allow sunscreen manufacturers to label bottles with a claim regarding protection against UVA rays, UVB rays and the sunburn and skin damage effects of each if the sunscreen contains a minimum SPF of 15. Companies that produce sunscreens labeled as providing broad spectrum protection must be able to back up claims that they provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

Some sunscreens claim that they are waterproof or last a much longer time than regular products. The FDA will no longer allow any company to claim that their sunscreen lasts longer than two hours. The product must also detail how long a person should wait after application before sun protection is in effect. The time limit before reapplication may also be printed on the label for clarity. Sunscreens were not required to have drug information in the past. The new regulations will now require sunscreens to be labeled with drug facts related to the effective ingredients contained in the product.

Chemicals Found in Sunscreen

The disturbing truth is that many sunscreens contain chemicals that can harm a person. Some sunscreens even contain chemicals that contribute to the development of skin cancer rather than protecting against it as one would believe would be the aim of wearing sun protection.

The Los Angeles Times notes that sunscreens that are sold as sports sunscreens are known to contain a chemical that can cause disruptions in the hormonal balance of the wearer. The chemical is called oxybenzene and is included as an ingredient in approximately 50 percent of all sunscreens that are labeled for sports use.

A chemical known as retinyl palmitate is present in approximately one third of all sunscreens. Retinyl palmitate is technically a type of vitamin A, but it has been tied to an increased risk of developing skin cancer when applied to the skin as part of a sunscreen.

Sunscreen Regulations in Europe

The European Commission has had regulations in effect regarding the manufacture and labeling of sunscreens since 1976. The FDA is only now looking to the European Commission for guidance in the regulation of sunscreens.

Alternatives to Sunscreen

Consumers may want to be proactive about the safety of sun protection until the FDA steps in to change regulations. Since the FDA has postponed labeling changes and regulations until the end of 2012, people spending time in the sun this summer will need to find healthy ways to enjoy the outdoors without risking the consequences of prolonged sun exposure.

People who do not feel that they have the time or patience to learn about natural alternatives to sunscreen can consider purchasing a natural bottled sunscreen that contains fewer ingredients and chemicals than typical sunscreens. However, Green Living Ideas points out that even natural bottled sunscreens tend to have harmful chemicals.

The best alternative to sunscreen is a combination of homemade sunscreen and lifestyle changes that limit sun exposure and boost natural defenses against harmful rays. Your first line of defense is to avoid spending time outdoors when the sun is at its brightest. This tends to happen between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Light clothing can also be worn to protect from the sun’s harmful rays. There are companies that specifically manufacture clothing that is intended to be used to limit exposure to the sun. These pieces of clothing tend to be costly, but obtaining a few staple items that protect you from the sun and keep you healthy may be worth the expense.

A healthy diet often contributes to a person’s natural immunity to the sun. Dark green, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits have been specifically linked to healthier skin that is less susceptible to sun damage. A topical mixture of zinc oxide and a natural lotion that is free of chemicals can act as a homemade sunscreen. Protecting yourself from the sun without causing yourself harm in the process is a matter of paying attention to labels and understanding ingredients. Alternatives to sunscreen can be used to avoid any harmful chemicals or ineffective products.

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