Lather on a lot of sunscreen, and frequently
Be afraid, very afraid of that sunscreen you lather on. So suggests a new report from the
1. Do trust that sunscreens work.
They're not snake oil, says Lim, and are regulated as over-the-counter drugs by the
There's some controversy over UVA protection because the
2. Do apply a lot, and frequently.
"You have to spray a few times over each area," Lim advises. You also need to remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours since sweating, rubbing and swimming can cause sunscreens, even those labeled "water resistant," to wear off.
3. Don't worry so much about the chemicals.
The EWG report raised concerns about retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A compound found in about 40 percent of sunscreens. The group says that chemical could accelerate skin damage and increase skin cancer risk when applied to skin that's exposed to sunlight. These claims, says Lim, are based on a study in mice, which are far more susceptible to skin cancer than humans.
"It's dangerous to apply a finding in mice to humans, and I've spoken with a number of my colleagues about this and we all agree that it's very premature to even cast doubt about the safety of this chemical," he notes.
The EWG also flagged products with oxybenzone, which it calls a "hormone-disrupting" compound. This, too, is based on mice data, says Lim; the animals were fed significantly greater amounts of the chemical than what's commonly applied in sunscreen. Other research found no significant changes in blood hormone levels in human volunteers who were told to apply sunscreens containing oxybenzone every day for two weeks.
Any hormonal effect, he adds, is probably "very low"; still, if you're concerned about avoiding other hormonal disrupters like bisphenol-A found in hard plastic bottles, you can also avoid this one by checking for oxybenzone on the list of active ingredients.
Interestingly, the EWG gave its green or favorable rating only to products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, two blockers that don't get absorbed into the skin and are considered pretty innocuous. But Lim says that some dermatologists have expressed concerns about the use of these compounds in people who have inflammatory skin conditions like eczema. Tiny cracks in the skin of people with eczema could allow these compounds to enter the bloodstream.
"Since the body can't metabolize these compounds, they can collect in the body over time," with unknown effects, says Lim. For this reason, he says it might be a good idea for those with skin problems to avoid those compounds or use sunscreens without them.
4. Don't forget the hat, cover-up, and sunglasses.
All of these provide protection where sunscreens can't. Sunglasses, for instance, protect you from cataracts and also protect those areas around your eyes where you can't apply sunscreen. Clothes to cover your midriff, shoulders and back provide added protection in between those dips in the ocean or pool. And a hat will protect your scalp from sunburn.
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