My views of EWG's 2012 sunscreen report

by sue ingram
(South Africa)

EWG's 6th annual sunscreen report for 2012 was released a couple of weeks back with an assessment of 257 different brands and more than 1800 sun protection products altogether. All of these products, together with their assessment detail, are now freely available to see as listed in their database, which is great.

A steady improvement in the perceived quality of the sunscreens reviewed is noted, which is attributed to the increased awareness of manufacturers as to the needs of consumers. Points of Interest for me include the following:

  • Many more kids/baby sunscreens are available these days but it is well worth your while to inspect the ingredients as they often are just a replica of the adults versions. As many people rely on children's sunscreens being gentler on the skin or a safer version than an adult version, it's well worth noting that you can't really rely on this being the case.

  • Vitamin A is still considered bad news when exposed to sunlight, but there are still a large number of sunscreens out there than contain Vitamin A. I have also found that many of the 'daily moisturizers' that advertise SPF protection, will include Vitamin A too.

  • EWG are still pushing to have the FDA's sunscreen rules better defined and I would agree wholeheartedly with that as there are important gaps . BUT I advocate rather that consumers should empower themselves by becoming that much more aware and knowledgeable without relying on a mother organization like the FDA. The FDA cannot possibly police everything they put out as rules anyway!

  • The gaps in the FDA's new sunscreen labeling rules include inadequate UVA protection and still allow for really high SPF values that in my opinion have little significance and give a false sense of protection.

  • I also believe that EWG's database itself is lacking in depth still as they have many 'data gaps' on the different products' ingredients as well as 'approving' some ingredients (ie. through their low toxic scores) that I definitely do not wish to use. eg. Polysorbates, which contain dioxane, which is carcinogenic and extremely toxic to man. Also propylene glycol, which is an extreme skin irritant and can even cause kidney or liver abnormalities. Also propylene glycol, which is an extreme skin irritant and can even cause kidney or liver abnormalities. I could not find phenol carbolic acid on their Skindeep database, but as it can cause terrible problems such a respiratory failure and seizures, it is well worth avoiding.

  • There is no focus at all on additional ingredient qualities provided by many healthy sunscreens today. eg. Botanicals with their exceptional antioxidant qualities, plus sun protection qualities in some of them. This is of huge importance to me as these ingredients offer skin health qualities far deeper than just surface protection.

A key new message is that sunscreens DO NOT PREVENT skin cancer, which I believe is an excellent message to push, so that they are not seen as the great big totally dependable solution. Smother yourself with sunscreen all day every day and you'll never get skin cancer is exactly what sunscreens are not all about. Sunscreen helps to prevent skin cancer, but is not capable of blocking 100% of both the UVA and UVB rays, so additional precautions are necessary.

Sunscreens with poor UVA protection remain legal

Almost 90 percent of all sunscreens assessed in EWG's report are considered likely to pass the FDA’s new rule for broad spectrum protection. It is hugely important to me to have high protection for both UVA and UVB rays. High protection for just UVB is a complete waste of time in my opinion. I would actually rather wear no sunscreen at all. Low protection for UVA is also pointless in my opinion as the UVA rays are the really damaging ones. So the only solution for me is to always have high protection for UVA (4 or 5 star rating) and a UVB no higher than SPF40. FDA ruling here is therefore serving no purpose for me.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide based sunscreens remain EWG's sunscreen ingredient of choice "for children, people with sensitive skin and anyone who wants the best UVA protection without potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, used in nearly every non-mineral sunscreen". My preference is zinc oxide, but both provide excellent protection for both UVA and UVB rays.

Vitamin D

According to the report, "a range of experts say vitamin D’s benefits should be considered in issuing recommendations for sun protection and sunscreen use (Grant 2009, Reichrath 2009, Tang 2010)". My own belief is that because being in the sun without protection to allow your skin to photosynthesize Vitamin D3 only requires approximately 20 minutes in the midday sun, thereafter, if required or choosing to remain in the sun, a natural sunscreen with no toxic chemicals and preferably loads of antioxidants is the solution for all exposed skin.

Daily moisturizers and make-up

Lastly, lip balms, daily moisturizers and make-up with SPF values are not to be relied on at all for either good protection or more importantly, healthy, balanced protection. A mere 9% or less were found to have reasonable sun protection qualities. Rather buy ones without any protection (actually quite a hard task these days it seems!) and then put your natural, organic sunscreen on when required to be in the sun longer than 20 minutes.

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