Do sunscreens give a false sense of security?


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Something strange is happening in the sunscreen aisle. Shelves that had been stocked with bottles claiming SPF, or sun protection factor, ratings of 30 now have products that trumpet SPF ratings of 55, 70, even 110+. But a new study of 500 beach and sports sunscreens recommends just 8% of the products tested.

According to the 2010 Sunscreen Guide from the Environmental Working Group, the issues involve ingredients, inadequate sun protection and application methods.


The report from the Washington-based environmental research group says 60% of beach and sport sunscreens contain the chemical oxybenzene, which is linked to hormone disruption. About 40% include retinyl palmitate, a type of vitamin A that the group says may hasten the development of skin cancer.

‘We also don’t recommend sprays and powders because of the inhalation risk,’ said Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst. Nor does the group advocate products with SPF ratings greater than 50 because they may protect from sunburn but provide a false sense of protection from UVA, the ultraviolet light that causes damage to the skin, including premature aging and skin cancer.

The Personal Care Products Council responded to the EWG Sunscreen Study with a statement, calling the study ‘unscientific,’ ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘baseless.’

‘For more than 30 years, consumers have trusted and relied on sunscreen products ... The safety and efficacy of sunscreen products have been thoroughly studied and tested by scientists and regulatory authorities throughout the world,’ said John Bailey, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, a national trade association representing 600 member companies that manufacture, distribute and supply most personal-care products marketed in the U.S.

‘We test all of our products and we stand by the testing of our products,’ said Beth St. Raymond, director of sun care for Energizer Personal Care, maker of the Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sun-care products. ‘We adhere to Food and Drug Administration guidelines, so when we see a report like EWG’s, our concern is that people will feel uncomfortable about using sun protection. We have the right products, they’re effective, they’re safe and we want to make sure people are using them to protect themselves from any sort of damage from the sun.’

-- Susan Carpenter

[For the record, 9:24 a.m. June 16: An earlier version of this post was missing its text, which has now been restored.]