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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.

wes chong
6/17/2012 5:05:54 PM

There are concerns about the scientific basis and accuracy of the Environmental Working Group rating the chemical components--often overly and inaccurate. For example, the science does not back their condemnation of oxybenzone--studies show its safety. There has recently been a review of sunscreens recently by Consumer Reports that may be more balanced and accurate.

patricia reed
6/20/2010 9:42:31 PM

Re comment about "very few seniors who worked outdoors got skin cancer". I can only add that my grandmother (died at 92 in 1975) did have skin CA, probably basal cell. She spent hours outside w/ her "sun bonnet". When her sister died some years before she did, I remember her having about 1/3 of her nose left. In the early 70's, I worked in a hospital and saw several cases of skin cancer in older individuals. I'm not advocating anything here, merely adding my few observations. I too, have had several areas on face and upper chest treated (surgical removal) for basal cell carcinoma.

6/7/2010 3:19:43 PM

They used to be called 'age spots'.

keith keller
6/7/2010 9:50:29 AM

What did we do before "Coppertone" and other sunscreens? Very few seniors who worked outdoors got skin cancer. If you gradually let you skin tan by being outdoors before 11AM your skin will become naturally adapted to the Sun and you'll get the Vit D you need. We spend too much time indoors. So, get your Sun before 11AM and after 4PM and do it gradually.

6/7/2010 8:16:44 AM

I have thought of that before. I have been doing that since I was in my 20's. Now I am 47 years old and everyone tells me I look at least 10 years younger than that and that my skin is beautiful and very soft.

5/31/2010 11:15:37 AM

Right on! I just make a blog post about the same thing. :) www.kenny.org/blog.html