It’s sunscreen shopping season and the just-released 2012 Sunscreen Guide published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) helps steer consumers toward healthy, affordable choices for sunscreen, lip balms and cosmetics.
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The leading cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and, according to the National Cancer Institute, over one million people are diagnosed a year. On top of this, many African Americans assume that, due to their darker skin tones, they can skip sunscreen altogether. The result? Higher death rates from melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer.
Often people grab whatever sunscreen is labeled with the highest SPF and assume it’s the best. The EWG guide warns shoppers that choosing a safe product isn’t just about the numbers. Their research spotlights potential health hazards:
Dangerous ingredients. Retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A) may cause tumors and lesions to develop more quickly when skin is exposed to the sun. Nneka Leiba, Senior Research Analyst and the guide’s lead author, says that “The FDA and National Toxicology both say it may heighten risk of skin damage and cancer.” Oxybenzone is linked to hormone disruption and can cause allergic reactions. EWG recommends choosing products with one of these ingredients instead: zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, or Mexoryl S.
Sprays or powders. These formulations can fill the air with tiny particles that EWG says are dangerous to inhale. They can cause lung inflammation and may be carcinogenic.
SPF values above 50+. The FDA says these labels are misleading and may encourage people to stay out in the sun for too long. Since SPF is based only on UVB protection (which prevents sunburn but does not guard against premature aging and deeper tissue damage), users of super high SPF products often have a false sense of security.