New guide ranks safe, effective sunscreens for 2012


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The best sun protection is a broad-brimmed hat and clothing, but it’s the rare Angeleno who wants to wear long sleeves and pants in the heat of summer. Most of us use sunscreen, but what are the safest and most effective products?

According to the 2012 Sunscreen Guide released Wednesday by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, just 25% of sunscreens are effective and safe to use. That’s an improvement from the group’s 2011 guide, which recommended just 20% of sunscreens.


The Environmental Working Group, in Washington, D.C., analyzed the ingredient lists of more than 800 beach and sport sunscreens. The sunscreens that made the cut do not use the vitamin A ingredient retinyl palmitate, which may heighten skin cancer risk when applied to sun-exposed skin. Nor do they use oxybenzone, a chemical that is known to disrupt hormones.

Many of the recommended products use mineral ingredients, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and are spread on the body in lotions rather than sprays or powders which, the group says, pose inhalation risks.

Sunscreens with SPF ratings of 50 and above were also given poor ratings since ‘high-SPF users are exposed to as many or more ultraviolet rays as those who use lower-SPF products, probably because consumers get a false sense of security from those big numbers. They wait too long before reapplying sunscreen and stay out too long,’ the report said.

The sunscreen guide found that 14% of the beach and sport sunscreens it analyzed claimed SPFs greater than 50. Seven percent did not contain ingredients known to protect against the UVA rays that cause wrinkles and skin damage.

Moisturizers, makeups and lip balms fared particularly poorly for their lack of UVA protection and inclusion of retinyl palmitate. The 2012 guide recommends nine percent of lip balms, seven percent of makeups and nine percent of daily moisturizers with built-in SPF.

On the positive side, the guide reports that 63% of children’s sunscreens contain effective mineral ingredients, compared with 40% of other sunscreens.


Still, ‘sunscreens or moisturizers or makeups with SPF is only part of a full sun-protection routine,’ said Nneka Leiba, senior research analyst with the Environmental Working Group. ‘It’s also extremely important to wear protective clothing, to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and to avoid the mid-day sun. All these things together offer the best sun protection.’

The searchable 2012 database lists sunscreens by brand and type, and can be screened for specific ingredients. Recommended products are listed in green and also include pricing information.


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Natural Sunscreen: Is it better for you?

-- Susan Carpenter

Top photo: Sun bathers in Miami Beach, Fla. Credit: J. Pat Carter / Associated Press

Lower photo credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times