info 05.17.10

Sunscreens
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Alphabet soup today. Worth sticking around, though, if you plan on spending any time this summer by the shore, on tar beach, or even working near a window.

It used to be thought that blocking UVB rays was the key to preventing skin cancer and premature aging. The SPF rating system is based on protection from UVB. Now, though, it's understood that UVB is only part of the story. UVA rays penetrate your skin more deeply than UVBs and cause aging, cell damage, and are a factor in the development of skin cancer.

Just to make things more complicated, UVA rays come in two flavors: short and long waves. Different chemicals approved for use in sunscreens work differently in how they protect you and what they protect you for. Here's how Consumer Search runs it down:
Avobenzone protects against long-wave rays. Several ingredients, including the commonly used oxybenzone, can only protect against short-wave UVA rays. Many sunscreens contain oxybenzone, but don't contain anything to protect against long-wave UVA. By including oxybenzone, companies are allowed to say their product protects against UVA, but unless it also contains avobenzone, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or Mexoryl SX, you are not protected against long-wave UVA rays. That's why skin-care experts say you should look for broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection.

The rub here is oxybenzone, a derivative of benzophenone. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done excellent work guiding consumers on sunscreen safety. The EWG points to a CDC study that says 97% of Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone "linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage," while a Mount Sinai School of Medicine study published at the same time reveals a link between mothers exposed to the chemical while pregnant and low birth weight in baby girls.

The FDA has been slow (30 years slow) to overhaul sunscreen guidelines, including regulation of UVA protection in sunscreens and the chemicals used in that protection. Still, no one is suggesting you forgo sunscreen—instead, take some time to familiarize yourself with the choices and safer options.

The EWG has ranked over 500 sunscreens for safety and efficacy (their annual update will appear on the site on May 25th). You can find their current list here. And National Geographic has a helpful buying guide.









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