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Sunscreens: What You Should Know


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Things you want in your sunscreen: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They provide good protection against UVB (the radiation that causes sunburn) and UVA (rays that can suppress the immune system and damage the DNA of cells, causing premature aging and skin cancer).

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about sunscreen and how you should use it. Here are my essential tips and guidelines for how to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays this summer.

Sunscreens: What You Should Know

Sunscreens: What You Should Know

1. Sunscreens that claim to provide “all-day protection” and “water resistance” are not reliable; ignore these promises and reapply all sunscreens at least every two to three hours and right after you’ve been sweating a lot or swimming.

2. Don’t use spray sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium oxide because the micronized particles may be absorbed through the lungs. UV rays can pass through clothes, so invest in a few pieces of lightweight clothing specifically made with an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF. A UPF of 50 means only one-fiftieth of the sun’s UV rays pass through it. You can also use a laundry product with TinosorbFD to increase the UPF of your clothes; it’ll last through repeated washings.

3. “Estrogenic” (steroid hormones) ingredients you don’t want in your sunscreen: oxybenzophenone (or its derivatives BP-3 and oxybenzone), homosalate (HMS), 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC), octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC or octinoxate), octyl dimethyl paba (ODP) and parabens. A 2001 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives reported these chemicals may cause reproductive problems.

4. Carcinogens and hormone disruptors you don’t want in your sunscreen: diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), padimate O and salicylates.

5. A study from the Centers for Disease Control published in July 2008 found BP-3 in the urine of 96.8 percent of the 2,517 Americans 6 years and older who were tested, indicating it can be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream.

6. Avoid combination sunscreen/insect repellents. You need to reapply sunscreen often, but it isn’t always safe to do so with insect repellents.

7. SPF 30 doesn’t provide more protection than SPF 15–it provides protection for a longer amount of time. Anything over SPF 50 may give you a false sense of security. Regardless of the SPF number, reapply sunscreen at least every two to three hours and right after you’ve been sweating a lot or swimming.

8. A comprehensive scientific review by the Environmental Working Group suggests 85 percent of the 993 sunscreen products it analyzed contain ingredients that pose safety concerns or offer inadequate protection from the sun.

Sunscreens: What You Should Know

Sunscreens: What You Should Know

9. The EWG has compiled a Sunscreen Safety Guide, which rates sunscreens, lip balms and moisturizers.

10. The Food and Drug Administration is working on new regulations for the sunscreen industry that should go into effect in 2012.

11. If a sunscreen makes your skin sting, itch, or break out, the likely culprits are PABA, avobenzone, benzophenone-3, helioplex, or octyl methoxycinnamate; switch to a formula without those ingredients. If you are sensitive to any of these chemicals, switch to any of the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide varieties.

12. Always seek shade. It reduces UV by up to 95%. Sit under a tree or beach umbrella, walk on the shady side of the street, and park yourself on the protected side of a train, bus or car. Avoidance is your number-one tactic, especially between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon, and near reflective surfaces (sand, water, snow). Even when it’s overcast, 80% of UV rays zips through the clouds.

13. Sunscreens that claim to provide “all-day protection” and “water resistance” are not reliable; ignore these promises and reapply all sunscreens at least every two to three hours and right after you’ve been sweating a lot or swimming.

Think your sunscreen is impervious to the ocean, pool or lake because it’s labeled waterproof? It is true that waterproof sunscreen is more resistant to the ways of water than your average sunscreen, but it’s not impermeable. Sunblock can be advertised as waterproof if it lasts 80 minutes in the water. If you plan to spend more time that than frolicking in the waves, make sure to reapply.

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