Vol. 150 June 1, 2016 Blockers of Sun and Bugs

June 15, 2016

Hub thumbnail 2015It is that time of year again.
The 4th annual review of sunscreens (can’t call them “blockers” anymore per the FDA) and insect repellents was just published by Consumer Reports (July 2016 issue). For those of you who don’t wish to read all that chaff-like verbiage under the new editor here are some bullet points to guide your purchases. (If you wish to wade through all the CR words,  the July issue also has recommendations about beach umbrellas that don’t blow away, replacing 15-year-old furnaces with a central heating and A/C unit, and the coolest coolers of them all.

SUNSCREENS 

  • An SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays (the cause of sunburn)and is the minimum SPF recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. An SPF of 50 blocks 1% more for more money. SPF 100 blocks 99%.
  • Almost half (48%) of the sun screens tested by CR actually provided LESS SPF then stated on the package. This has been true over the four years of CR analysis, and this year CR is sending their results to the FDA and asking, “How come you guys don’t test this stuff?” Use SPF 30 product as a minimum.
  • Mineral sunscreens (those with titanium or zinc oxide in them) were the poorest UNLESS the sunscreen left a whitish glow on your skin. Nano-particle mineral sunscreens do not leave a whitish glaze (customers prefer that), but they don’t work well. The FDA is “still studying the unknown unintended consequences of nano-particles in skin lotions”. Non-mineral manufacturers are jumping on this uncertainty by promoting “no nano-particles” advertising, just another meaningless advert phrase.
  • “Broad-spectrum” sunscreens penetrate deeper into the skin to also block UVA light which is associated with increased risk for melanoma and accelerated aging of the skin. UVA rays pass through clouds and glass. There is NO SPF number for UVA ray blockers. CR used a “standard from Europe” in judging UVA blocking ability.
  • “Natural sunscreens” (as opposed to “chemical sunscreens”) are labeled as such because they contain natural minerals, aka “chemicals from the earth”, like titanium and/or zinc oxide. All of them came in under SPF of 15 in CR ratings unless they left white streaks on your skin when applied.
  • The only real difference between kids’ and the adults’ sunscreens are the cartoons on the package. Sprays are NOT recommended for kids because of inhalation occurrences. If you want to use a spray, spray it on your hand and rub it on.
  • No sunscreen is waterproof and reapplication is recommended after coming out of the water. “Waterproof” and “sweatproof” are terms prohibited to sunscreen manufacturers by the FDA.
  • Most sunscreens lose effectiveness after three years in their container, and the FDA requires them to date them now.

CR’s TOP PICKS?
No-Ad Sport SPF 50: super protective, non-greasy, fragrance-free, no white streaks, at a great price of 63 cents an ounce.  (“No-AD” means the company does not run ads on TV; it does not refer to “no additives”.)
Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50: $1.31 per ounce

HIGHEST RATING?
#1 – La Roche-Posey Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk SPF 60: $7.20 per ounce
#2 – Pure Sun Defense SPF 50 Disney “Frozen”: 79 cents per ounce! (go figure!?); other models with different Disney names like “Avengers”, “Spiderman”, etc. should be equally good.

WORST?
CVS Kids Sun Lotion SPF 50:
an actual SPF of 8
Banana Boat Kids Tear-free, Sting-free Lotion SPF 50: is also apparently sunscreen-free with an SPF of 8

BUG REPELLENTS

Choosing a mosquito and tick repellent is easier. Just buy one with either 20% Picaridin or at least 15 % DEET. Both provide protection for 5-8 hours.  Repellent concentration is key. 30% DEET gives a full 8 hours protection. 5% Picaridin (found in some OFF products) gives less than an hour protection.

  • 5 of 6 “Natural ” plant-oil-based repellents tested did NOT work. Burt’s Bee Herbal gives you a scant 1 hour protection.
  • The “natural” 30% oil lemon eucalyptus “Repel” DID work for 7 hours, but should be used only on people over 3 years of age.
  • Picaridin 20% is safe for pregnant women and children over 2 months of age. Canada restricts its use to children over 6 months.
  • “Avon Skin So Soft” works only when it contains 20% Picaridin, but NOT without it.
  • DEET 15-30% is safe for children over 2 months of age.
  • Children under 2 months should be protected with mosquito netting and clothes.
  • Products including Vitamin B1, garlic, wristbands, or ultrasonic devices have no evidence of effectiveness.
  • Like sunscreens, don’t spray your face. Spray on your hands and rub on your face.

OFF, CUTTER, REPEL are familiar brand names, but buy the repellent with the right concentrations since some of these brand products have insufficient concentrations of either Picaridin or DEET to afford adequate protection.

Have fun at the beach … or the Olympics… or wherever!

 


Vol. 126 June 1, 2015 Suncreen and Bug Repellent Effectiveness

June 1, 2015

hubHere comes the sun
Here comes the sun,
and I say, It’s all right

Little Darling
It’s been a long, cold lonely winter
Little Darling
It feels like years since its been here.

– George Harrison, Beatles Abbey Road album 1969

A sure sign that summer is coming is the Consumer Report annual update on sunscreens and bug repellents (July 2015 issue, just received). Of the 1000 sunscreen products on the market, they tested and rated only the 15 lotions, 13 sprays, and 6 ultrahighs which actually delivered close to the advertised SPF (sun protection factor). Their conclusions include:

  • Advertised and labeled SPF factors are often untrue. ( actual can be 16% to 70% less) So what? If they drop below an SPF of 30 they are not as protective as the dermatologists want them to be. This is one reason they are not labeled “sunblocks” anymore.
  • Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens that reduce BOTH UVA and UVB exposure to the skin
  • “Natural” sunscreens, even those that tout a mineral base, don’t work so well. (CVS Baby Pure & Gentle SPF 60 provided an actual SPF of 18.)
  • You can get good protection for $1.65 an oz. or pay $7.20 an oz. for top rated ultra sunscreens.(SPF 70+)
  • Adult and infant sunscreens are the same except for fragrance and color and are interchangeable in terms of protection.
  • No further word from the FDA on nanoparticles.
  • Don’t forget to slather your ears and the tops of your feet.

Consumer Reports bottom line:
Best for Kids: Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 $1.31/oz.
Best Buy: Walmart’s Equate Lotion or Spray SPF 50 $0.56/oz. for lotion and $1.33/oz. for spray.
Best “Natural” Sunscreen: California Baby SPF 30 (the only one that reached close to 30 SPF) $6.90/0z.
Not recommended: Yes To Cucumbers Natural SPF 30 provided actual SPF of 14 for $4.00/oz.
Truly Fragrance-Free: Coppertone Ultra Guard SPF 70 (actual SPF of 59) $1.38/oz.

Check out the July 2015 issue of CR for many more details and my previous blogs for pros and cons of sprays and specific recommendations of products.

Sidebar on tanning: In October 2014 a UMassMedSchool study of 125 top universities revealed that 48% had tanning booths for their students on campus despite growing evidence that exposure in tanning booths increased the rate of skin cancer. About 15% also allowed students to use their campus cash cards at off-campus tanning booths. By May of 2015 several colleges have disallowed the use of cash cards for off-campus tanning booths, in part as a result of a focused campaign led by UMMS researchers to reduce student access to tanning booths.

Battle of the Bugs
The same issue of Consumer Reports lists the results of 15 different bug repellents worn by their stalwart volunteers who subjected themselves to hordes of disease-free culex and aedes mosquitoes (the ones that do carry West Nile fever and chikungunya). Before you laugh at “chikungunya” or laugh at just trying to say it, you should know that this viral non-fatal disease has become a significant problem in South and Central America, including the Caribbean Islands. Panama has roadside billboards exhorting citizens to visit a doctor at the “first sign of fever, don’t treat your fever at home”.

Results of this torture of CR volunteers:

  • DEET is effective and NOT dangerous for you or your kids over 2 months of age as long as you use the right concentration. Concentrations of 15% or more work and above 30% work no better. Potential side-effects are much less under 30% concentration. So, use DEET 15-30%.   Off! Deep Woods – 25% or Repel Scented Family – 15% are recommended. Several Cutter products have 7% or less of DEET and are not recommended.
  • Non-DEET repellents containing 20% picaridin (a synthetic compound that mimics a chemical in black pepper plants) OR 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus (another synthetic chemical) provide up to 7 hours of protection. FDA says the oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years because it can cause temporary eye injury. Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picaridin (20%) and Natrapel 8 Hour (20% picaridian) are recommended.  Off! Family Care is only 5% picaridin and is not recommended.
  • Don’t spray any of the products in your face. All bug repellents cause eye irritation. Apply with your hands, especially with children.
  • “Natural” repellents don’t do the job. All of the plant-oil products failed immediately or within an hour. The “organic” label is meaningless.
  • Wristbands don’t work either. One manufacturer is being taken to court by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising.
  • For the patio, before they bite? Unfortunately the citronella candle buckets, though pleasing, offered no protection, and neither did a battery-operated diffuser of plant oils. A high-speed pedestal oscillating fan reduced mosquito landings by 45% to 65%, especially for those sitting closest to the fan, but I suspect their warbly-sounding words were an unexpected addition to the BBQ party.
  • What about Skin So Soft? Avon makes no repellent claims, and in this case the manufacturer is right. CR found it offered no protection in 1993, and this time too. Avon is now marketing combined sunscreen and repellent (picaridin) products, but the repellent concentrations are too low for protection. They are not recommended.

Summer is here, along with the sun and uninvited flying guests!

 


Vol. 107 July 15, 2014 Update on Sunscreens

July 15, 2014

hub

“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

References:
1. Consumer Reports, July 2014, “The Truth About Sunscreens”.


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