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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

The Best Sunscreen May Be No Sunscreen

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: Keith Goetzman, environment, sunscreen, health, toxins, cancer, 2010 Sunscreen Guide, Environmental Working Group,

Sunscreen babyIt’s the time of year when many people reach for their sunscreen—but take a look before you squeeze that tube. Some sunscreens may actually encourage skin cancer growth, and others exaggerate their SPF factor or make other bogus claims.

These revelations come courtesy of the annual sunscreen ratings by the Environmental Working Group. Check out the 2010 Sunscreen Guide, in which EWG researchers recommend only 39 out of 500 beach and sport sunscreens—a rather poor showing for the skin-goo industry.

EWG calls out some products for particularly egregious claims in its Hall of Shame. For instance, Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection SPF 55 claims on its label that it’s “mild as water to the skin”—and yet urges parents to stop use and ask a doctor if a rash develops, and to contact a poison control center if it’s swallowed.

The Food and Drug Administration also makes it into the Hall of Shame for failing to regulate the sunscreen industry. “32 years (and counting) after its first draft sunscreen standards,” writes EWG, there is still no final rule. “Until the agency formally issues its rule, companies are not required to verify that their sunscreens work, including testing for SPF levels, checking waterproof claims or providing UVA protection. Nearly 1 in 8 sunscreens does not block UVA rays. Buyer beware!”

Of course, there is an alternative to sunscreen, notes EWG. It’s a pretty out-there solution, but stick with me here: Reduce your sun exposure.

By wearing light, long-sleeved clothing and wide-brimmed hats, sticking to the shade, and planning around the sun, you can stay away from many harmful rays.

Now why didn’t we think of that before?

Source: Environmental Working Group

Image by Graham and Sheila, licensed under Creative Commons.