Could Sunscreen Use Increase Rate of Skin Cancers?

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Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer for many of us. Time to hit the pools and lakes. More time spent at ballparks. Time to put on the sunscreen for protection against future skin cancers. Be careful of the sunscreen you use. The fourth annual Sunscreen Guide by Environmental Working Group (EWG) has given low marks to the current crop of sunscreen products, recommending only 39 of 500 (8%) beach and sport sunscreens on the market this season.

The biggest reasons for the low marks is the surge in exaggeration of SPF claims (SPFs greater than 50) and recent developments in understanding the possible hazards of some sunscreen ingredients.

Products with high SPF ratings sell a false sense of security. People using them tend to stay out in the sun longer, exposing their skin to large amounts of UVA radiation and often still get sunburned. This increased skin damage puts the person at increased risk of skin cancer. High SPF products, which may protect against sunburn, often provide very little protection against UVA radiation.

The EWG warns most people don't get the high SPF they pay for as people often apply about a quarter of the recommended amount. In everyday practice, a product labeled SPF 100 really performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and an SPF 15 translates to 2.

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This year, new concerns are being raised about a vitamin A compound called retinyl palmitate, found in 41% of sunscreens. The FDA is investigating whether this chemical, when applied to skin that is then exposed to sunlight, may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk. FDA data suggest that vitamin A may be photocarcinogenic, meaning that in the presence of the sun's ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer. EWG notes the evidence against vitamin A is not conclusive, but as long as it is suspect recommends that consumers choose vitamin A-free sunscreens.

EWG warns consumers not to depend on any sunscreen for primary protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Hats, clothing and shade are still the most reliable sun protection available.

"Flouting FDA's proposed regulation," companies substantially increased their high-SPF offerings in 2010 with one in six brands now listing SPF values higher than 50. "Neutrogena and Banana Boat stand out among the offenders, with six and four products labeled as 'SPF 100,'" respectively," the new report says

The full list of the best and worst sunscreens can be found on the EWG's searchable database. A few of the best rated include: Al Terrain Aquasport Performance SPF 30, Badger Sunscreen for Body and Face SPF 30, California Baby Sunscreen SPF 30, and Vanicream Sunscreen Sport SPF 35.

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