We all know that too much sun is certainly bad for us, if not from the pain of sunburn then from the long-term consequences of sun exposure, such as the risk of deadly melanoma skin cancer.
Recently however, new studies and data indicate that our reliance on sunscreen lotions or sprays for protection could potentially be a big mistake. Some reports indicate that certain ingredients in modern sunscreens present health risks. As well,the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified two major problems regarding sunscreen usage, both related to human error: improper application and over-reliance on sunscreen.
Sunscreen danger #1: Improper application
- Not applying enough sunscreen: According to research, the amount of sunscreen we apply is often insufficient for adequate protection.
- Not applying sunscreen evenly: Most often, people apply sun screen lotion on themselves. But it is very difficult to apply sunscreen evenly and thoroughly even on someone else – nearly impossible to do so on ourselves, especially on the back. Missing a single spot exposes the sunbather to harmful sunrays and potential burn.
- Inhaling sunscreen spray vapor: Many of the chemical ingredients of sunscreen are only considered safe for external use. However, the increasing popularity of sunscreen sprays increases the need for caution when applying them, avoiding contact with the mouth or nose.
- Not reapplying sunscreen often enough: Most sunscreens recommend reapplying after a certain amount of time. The FDA warns that there is no such thing as a truly waterproof or sweat-proof sunscreen. Water resistant, yes. Waterproof: no. This is why the FDA recommends re-applying sunscreen every two hours, or even more often if the sunscreen labeling recommends it and if you are going in and out of the water or are perspiring significantly. New labeling standards from the FDA require manufacturers to identify the water resistance timeframe.
Sunscreen danger #2: Over-reliance on sunscreen
Too often these days, common sense practices have been replaced by a strong reliance on the protective properties of sunscreen lotions and sunscreen sprays. But, as noted above, all it takes is one missed area of skin exposure when applying sunscreen to leave you or your child vulnerable to sunburn and its potentially long-lasting dangers.
Sunscreen danger #3: dangerous sunscreen ingredients
- Vitamin A. While vitamin A is generally assumed to be good for us, a recent study showed that the form of vitamin A often used in lotions, retinyl palmitate, can actually accelerate the development of skin tumors and lesions if applied to your skin in sunlight.
- Petroleum-based fragrances. Those tropical scents that you enjoy when applying sunscreen can be problematic. For some, allergic reactions are common. For all, the petroleum-based fragrances commonly used in sunscreen have been linked to skin tumors.
- Nanoparticles. Many sunscreen lotions with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as ingredients contain nanoparticles – microscopic particles about the same width as a human hair. Some research indicates that nanoparticles can present health risks, depending on their size and shape – something completely unregulated today.
- Oxybenzone. - One of the most popular ingredients in modern sunscreens, oxybenzone is a chemical known to disrupt hormones, with the risk being highest for children.
Solutions for safe sun exposure
- Follow the recommendations in the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide to avoid potentially harmful sunscreen ingredients.
- Use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or higher regularly and as directed.
- Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when sunrays are most dangerous.
- Cover skin exposed to the sun with clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, and broad-brimmed hats. And protect the eyes with sunglasses.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and even more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.
- When using spray sunscreens, avoid spraying anywhere near the mouth or nose. The safer solution: use the spray on your hands, and then use your hands to transfer the lotion carefully to the face.
- Finalizing regulations to establish standards for testing the effectiveness of sunscreen products and require labeling that accurately reflects test results
- Proposing a regulation to limit the maximum SPF value on sunscreen labeling to “SPF 50+” (According to FDA research, there is no advantage to going higher than SPF 50)
- Performing a data request to have identified the relative safety and effectiveness for different kinds of sunscreen products (e.g., sprays vs. lotions, etc.)
- Creating guidance for sunscreen manufacturers on how to test and label their products in light of these new measures.talk with
- Requiring sunscreen manufacturers to meet certain minimum standards in order to use the labeling "broad-spectrum"