“Consumers continue to [erroneously] perceive high-SPF sunscreens as more effective than lower ones.”
- Consumer Reports, July 2014
My last blog on sunscreens a year ago was largely based on a testing of products by Consumer Reports. So is this one.
1. The FDA does NOT test sunscreen products before they are put on sale.
The FDA does require manufacturers to meet certain standards in order to label their product with these three terms:
“SPF number “- level of protection from UVB rays that cause sunburn
“broad spectrum” – also protects against UVA rays that can increase skin aging
“water-resistant” – claims protection for 80 minutes after immersion
In 2011 the FDA requested more data from manufacturers about sunscreen sprays and is currently evaluating it.
2. Any SPF over 30 provides little more protection, and will cost you more.
SPF 15 = 93% protection
SPF 30 = 97% protection
SPF 50 = 98% protection
SPF 100 = 99% protection
3. Sunscreen for kids is a marketing gimmick.
Though half of parents who use sunscreen on their children think that sunscreen for kids is “safer” and “gentler”, that is simply NOT true. The FDA makes no distinction in standards for children’s sunscreens and the ingredients of most “children’s” sunscreens are identical to and are present in the same concentration as regular sunscreen. Some may be reformulated to be “tear-free” or “sting-free”, but that is the only difference.
4. Use more of it, and earlier than you think.
Apply the sunscreen at least 15 minutes before exposure because the chemicals take that long to interact before providing protection. Apply at least an ounce (2 tablespoons or one shot glass full) to cover your face and body adequately. Reapply every 2 hours.
5. “Natural” sunscreens are no safer nor more effective than “chemical” ones.
There are no effective “natural” sunscreens, however defined, on the market. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide are natural minerals, but if used in their natural (unprocessed) state your zinc oxide covered nose would be black and covered with lead! Sunscreen lotions with zinc oxide and titanium oxide NANOPARTICLES are clear, neither black nor white, but nanoparticles still have their safety critics. “Natural” sunscreens, often labeled as “mineral” rather than “chemical”, can also clump and lose uniformity of SPF.
6. The jury (NIH and the FDA) is still out on the safety of nanoparticles in sunscreens, but the risk appears to be very small.
Nanoparticles do not penetrate skin cells and actually provide very good protection against the effects of the sun, but the potentials effects of inhalation (powders) or ingestion (lip balm) have generated some caution. Nanoparticles have long been used in a whole variety of cosmetics, combine with cells in very tiny amounts, and are approved in sunscreens in Europe. According to the Environmental Working Group, a watch-dog organization that has been monitoring the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics for years, “Nanoparticles are a lower hazard than most sunscreen ingredients approved for the U.S. market.”
7. Sunscreen sprays are not recommended.
Correct spray patterns are key for good protection, even spraying the same area twice is recommended, and it is not a good thing to breathe in the spray. The best way to use a spray is to spray it in your hand and then apply it, so why bother with a spray? The FDA is investigating the potential risks of spray sunscreens; like standing too close to a grill after you have sprayed and getting burned when the propellant ignites.
A selected list of products (not all recommended) Consumer Reports tested: (7 of 24 tested products were “recommended”)
(scores are result of UVB and UVA protection measured by wave length and effects of a soak in the tub for 80 minutes: 100 is the maximum)
Up and Up Sport Spray (Target) SPF 50 $0.80 per ounce score: 90 Rec.
Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 $1.38 per ounce score: 81 Rec.
Equate Ultra Protection (Walmart) SPF 50 $0.56 per ounce score: 80 Rec.
No-Ad Sport SPF 50 $0.63 per ounce score: 69
Up and Up Kids (Target) SPF 50 $0.64 per ounce score: 39
Banana Boat Kids SPF 50 $1.25 per ounce score: 16
1. Consumer Reports, July 2014, “The Truth About Sunscreens”.