The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released its latest guide to sunscreens. The guide investigates more than 750 beach and sport sunscreens for how well they protect your skin and the overall safety of their ingredients.
This year's report takes a closer look at sunscreens specifically made for babies and kids. According to the EWG, melanoma is on the rise in our country. It takes only a few blistering sunburns in childhood to double the chance a person will get skin cancer over a lifetime. Melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is characterized by mole-like cancerous growths.
I'm one of those people who had many blistering sunburns during childhood, often brought about on purpose because the burn eventually turned to tan. A good tan was a status symbol in my early teens. I've shared my skin cancer story before and urged everyone to have suspicious moles checked. The basel cell carcinoma on my chest that showed up about 30 years after my self-inflicted sunburns was most likely caused by a mix of genetics and sun exposure.
Because I know more about the sun's damaging effects than my parents did and because of my experience with skin cancer, I'm vigilant about sunscreen when it comes to my sons.
I certainly wish I could go back and change they sunscreen use of my youth. The skin cancer that I mentioned above returned just a few months ago. What was a small, almost unnoticeable scar on my chest is now a two-inch long, very noticeable scar from the latest procedure to remove the cancer. I joke that I got into a dual with a pirate — and it certainly looks like a stab wound. Mostly, I'm grateful that there's a good chance this latest procedure took care of the basel cell carcinoma for good. But, sometimes I'm very self-conscious about this scar, which might have been avoidable had I known then what I know now.
I've used the EWG's sunscreen guide for several years now because I know all sunscreens are not created equal.
Three-fourths of the sunscreens the EWG tested were found to be lacking, either in effectiveness or because of the ingredients. Problematic ingredients like oxybenzone, a hormone disrupter, and retinal palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin, can be found in some sunscreens.
High SPF (sunburn protection factor) values can also give people a false sense of security. A high SPF is associated with greater protection from immediate burn and from future skin cancer risk, but this year's report says "higher SPF ratings don't necessarily offer great protection from other UV-related skin damage and may lead users to spend too much time in the sun."
Dermatologists and skin cancer researchers now believe that sunscreens should not only protect from UVB rays — the ultraviolet short-wave rays that cause skin cancer — but they should also protect from UVA rays. Sunscreen manufacturers have stepped up in that area, and nearly every product tested contained an ingredient thought to filter UVA rays.
So, which are the best products, the ones that protect from both UVB and UVA rays while containing the least harmful ingredients? You'll need to head to EWG's easy-to-use interactive 10th Annual Guide to Sunscreens for that info, but I can tell you a bit more about what to expect.
Sunscreens are broken down into four categories.
- Best beach and sport sunscreens
- Best-scoring kids' sunscreens
- Best moisturizers with SPF
- Worst-scoring kids sunscreens
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer for many of us. Before you stock up on sunscreen for the summer, take the time to look over the EWG guide and find safe and effective sun protection for you and your family. Your future self will thank you.