Very few sunscreens appear to be any good - hats, shirts and shade still best

Very few sunscreens appear to be any good - hats, shirts and shade still best

A new report which stated that exaggerated claims made by many sunscreens, as well as possible links between added vitamin A and accelerated growth of skin tumors and lesions, concluded that just 8 out of 500 sunscreen products were any good. The study, carried out by the Sunscreen Guide by Environmental Working Group (EWG) gave low marks to most current sunscreen products.

Industry's uninspiring performance and the federal Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) failure to issue regulations for sunscreens, lead EWG to caution consumers not to rely on any sunscreen for primary protection from the sun's potentially harmful ultraviolet rays. Hats, clothing and shade are still the most reliable sun protectors available.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) explains that people using sunscreens are sold a false sense of security, and stay out in the sun longer, subjecting their skin to large amounts of UVA (ultra violet light type A) radiation - this type of sunlight is thought to be responsible for considerable skin damage and cancer, but does not burn.

High SPF products, which protect against sunburn, typically provide minimal protection against UVA radiation. Also, the majority of people don't get the high SPF they expected: people apply about a quarter of the recommended amount. In everyday practice, a product labeled SPF 100 really performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and an SPF 15 translates to 2.

Jane Houlihan, EWG Senior Vice President for Research, said:

Many sunscreens available in the U.S. may be the equivalent of modern-day snake oil, plying customers with claims of broad-spectrum protection but not providing it, while exposing people to potentially hazardous chemicals that can penetrate the skin into the body. When only 8 percent of sunscreens rate high for safety and efficacy, it's clear that consumers concerned about protecting themselves and their families are left with few good options.

This year, new concerns are being raised about retinyl palmitate - a vitamin A compound found in 41% of sunscreens. The FDA is investigating whether retinyl palmitate, when applied to skin that is then exposed to sunlight, may speed up skin damage and raise the risk of skin cancer. FDA data indicate that vitamin A may be photocarcinogenic - in the presence of the sun's ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer. The evidence against vitamin A is not decisive, but until scientists are sure either way, EWG recommends that consumers choose vitamin A-free sunscreens.

EWG has again flagged products with oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting compound that enters the bloodstream through the skin. Biomonitoring surveys conducted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) detected oxybenzone in the bodies of 97% people.

EWG scientists examined 1,400 sunscreen products, including beach and sports lotions, sprays and creams, moisturizers, make-up and lip balms. The 39 top beach and sports products that earned EWG's "green" rating all contain the minerals zinc or titanium. EWG researchers were not able find any non-mineral sunscreens that scored better than "yellow."

Some of the blame falls on the FDA, which has yet to finalize regulations for sunscreens promised since 1978. FDA officials believe that the regulations may be issued next October - but even if this occurs, manufacturers will probably be given at least a year to comply with the new rules, the EWG explains. That means the first federally regulated sunscreens won't go on store shelves before the summer of 2012.

Houlihan said:

Both world wars, the creation of Medicare and the planning and execution of the moon landing combined took less time to achieve than FDA's promised sunscreen regulations. Meanwhile, more than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. This could be the poster child for government inaction.

"EWG's 2010 Sunscreen Guide"

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Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice