[By Penny Stewart]
As summer beckons and scores of sun-lovers head for the tempting beaches under the clear blue skies, consumers are stocking up on sunscreen to protect their skin. From claims such as “waterproof” to “all-day protection”, are consumers really getting what they are paying for?
The truth is that finding a good sunscreen can be difficult. Walk down the aisle looking to buy sunscreen and you’re bombarded with claims such as waterproof, sweat-proof, and protects against skin cancer. Sounds too good to be true? It may actually be so; the problem is that many of those claims are false!
For example, some sunscreen advertises themselves as being waterproof. The FDA has labeled these claims “misleading and false.” According to the Environmental Working Group, there’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen at all. No matter what the sunscreen, at some point it will rub off and dissolve in to the water if you are in the water long enough.
ALL DAY PROTECTION
Doctors advise that sunscreens need to be reapplied every four hours or earlier if you have been in the water. Having a product that claims it offers “all-day protection” is misleading as it may make people think it is okay not to reapply sunscreen or that one application of sunscreen will guarantee round the clock protection. This sort of misleading claims may lead the user to end up paying a heavier price in the form of sun damage in the long run.
Some sunscreens also offer broad spectrum protection, a term which seems to indicate that they protect against skin cancer, sunburn and aging. This isn’t always the case. Products with SPF 15 or lower may protect against sunburn, but they do not help against wrinkles and skin cancer. In addition, some sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but not UVA. Both types work together to damage the skin.
So what do you look for in a sunscreen?
- Dermatologists strongly recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or greater year-round for all skin types. If you are fair-skinned and sunburn easily, you may want to select a sunscreen with a higher SPF to provide additional protection. All sunscreens need to be reapplied, so follow the guidelines written on the sunscreen bottle. Gel sunscreens tend to sweat off and, therefore, need to be reapplied more frequently. Remember, expensive sunscreens are not necessarily of better quality.
- Choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA radiation. PABA, or para-aminobenzoic acid, was one of the original ultraviolet B (UVB) protecting ingredients in sunscreens. However, some people’s skin is sensitive to PABA, and it also can cause staining of clothing. Today, PABA has been refined and newer ingredients called PABA esters (such as glycerol PABA, padimate A and padimate O) can be found in sunscreens. PABA and PABA esters only protect against UVB radiation, the sun’s burning rays that are the primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer. Also look for other UVB absorbers listed in the ingredients such as salicylates and cinnamates.
- You should look for a sunscreen that also protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, those rays that penetrate deeper into the skin and are the culprits in premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. UVA-screening chemicals include oxybensone, sulisobenzone and Parsol 1789, also called avobenzone. NOTE: The SPF number on sunscreens only reflects the product’s ability to screen UVB rays. At present there is no FDA-approved rating system that measures UVA protection levels.
- Look for a sunscreen that is “water-resistant,” especially if you participate in outdoor physical activity. However, you should still reapply sunscreens after water sports to ensure maximum protection.
For the moment, consumers can still count on sunscreen to protect their skin, just beware that some of their claims are just a shade of truth.