Dermatologists have been saying it for years, and a new study drives it home. Wearing sunscreen every day may be the best way to slow down skin aging.
But before you reach for just any tube of sunscreen, you might want to consult the Environmental Working Group’s 2013 Guide to Sunscreens. It is a comprehensive guide on the do’s and don’ts of all types of sunscreen containing products—from lip balms and makeup to sun and sports lotions.
Here are a few highlights from the guide:
- Watch out for this ingredient. Nearly one-quarter of sunscreen products–especially face creams–contain a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate that may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to skin in the presence of sunlight. EWG recommends avoiding sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions containing vitamin A, often labeled “retinyl palmitate” or “retinol.” If using retinol treatments, apply them only at night and always wear a sunscreen during the day.
- Don’t be fooled by high SPF sunscreens. Studies have found that people are more likely to use high SPF products (SPF 50 and above) improperly due to a perception that they provide all-day protection. In truth, they are only marginally better an SPF 30 – 50 sunscreen and do not provide the best balance of UVA and UVB protection.
High-SPF products also require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals that may pose health risks when they penetrate the skin. These chemicals have been linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption. Some may trigger allergic skin reactions.
- Unbalanced Protection. Sunscreens often claim to provide “broad spectrum” protection from both UVA and UVB rays. But more often than not, the formulas focus on UVB protection. This means that many sunscreens don’t provide adequate protection from UVA rays. Higher-energy UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburns and pre-cancerous DNA mutations, but UVA rays cause more subtle damage. They penetrate deeper into skin tissue and are most responsible for generating free radicals – energized molecules that are highly reactive and can damage DNA and skin cells.
Putting Products to the Test
To assemble their annual guide to sunscreens, EWG researchers analyze and rate the safety and effectiveness of over a thousand skin care products.
According to senior EWG researcher Sonya Lunder, “The vast majority of sunscreens available to the consumer aren’t as good as most people think they are, but there are a handful of products that rise above the rest.”
To see if your favorite sunscreen makes the grade, enter the product name in the guide’s searchable database of skin care products.