While regular, consistent, sensible sun exposure is vital for optimal health and well-being — having many benefits beyond vitamin D production — overexposure can result in skin damage that could raise your risk of skin cancer. This means if you're spending the day at the beach or engaging in outdoor activities for hours at a stretch, you likely need to bring some form of sun protection. While clothing is an ideal choice, most people opt for sunscreen, which can have a number of adverse ramifications.
Not only do many sunscreens contain toxic ingredients, many are also only half as effective as claimed. Consumer Reports recently issued its 2018 Sunscreen Buying Guide,1 which notes that testing reveals more than 70 sunscreen products do not provide the level of UVB protection stated on the label. As a result, you may end up getting sunburned anyway. The report also found that only a dozen or so products offered decent protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Can You Trust the Sun Protection Factor?
Sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of how long the product will prevent your skin from burning when exposed to UVB rays. "For example, assuming you apply — and reapply — the sunscreen correctly, if you'd normally burn after 20 minutes in the sun, an SPF 30 protects for about 10 hours," Consumer Reports explains. However, it's important to realize that the SPF applies to UVB rays only, and not UVA, which are actually responsible for most of the UV damage.
To protect against UVA, you need to look for a broad-spectrum product that specifies protecting against UVA. Unless specified, it's safe to assume it does not protect against UVA. It's also important to realize that no sunscreen is capable of blocking 100 percent of UVB or UVA. As a general guideline:
• SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB
• SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB
• SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of UVB
As in previous years, recent testing again reveals many products overstate their SPF. In this round of testing, 24 of the 73 products evaluated2 offered less than half of the protection promised by their stated SPF. What this means is if a product is labeled SPF 30, it may only offer SPF 15 protection or less, which could lead to overexposure and burning. This finding echoes the results of other investigators as well. For example,
• A JAMA Dermatology study published last year found nearly half of the top-rated sunscreen products tested failed to meet the standards set by the American Academy of Dermatology3
• An analysis by Consumer Reports earlier this year found many sunscreens tested failed to meet SPF standards; 40 percent worked at less than half the SPF indicated on the label4
Oxybenzone — Just One of Several Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients
Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 96 percent of the U.S. population has oxybenzone in their bodies — a known endocrine disruptor linked to reduced sperm count5 in men and endometriosis6 in women. The main source of this chemical? Sunscreens. Oxybenzone is also lethal to certain sea creatures, including horseshoe crab eggs, and researchers warn the widespread use of oxybenzone-containing sunscreens pose a serious threat to coral reefs and sea life.7
In fact, Hawaiian lawmakers recently approved a ban on the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate, both of which have been linked to severe coral damage. Estimates suggest sunscreen-wearing beachgoers introduce as much as 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen into the world's oceans each year.8 As reported by Hawaii News Now:9
"At a science class at Kaimuki Middle School, students learn to make homemade sunscreen. It includes bees wax, shea butter, a mix of oils and non nano zinc oxide for sun protection. 'I think it's really cool because I know it doesn't have oxybenzone so when I use it. I won't think it hurt the coral reefs,' said Lochlan Ajimine, a 6th grade student in Nicole Ross' science class.
The husband and wife founders of organic sunscreen maker, Little Hands Hawaii, have been teaching their techniques and advocating for a ban on the sale of sunscreen with oxybenzone and octinoxate, two common chemicals which some studies show harm coral reefs. 'I think it's both very important for our bodies and for the environment and also for the keiki. They are so little and they need good stuff going on to them,' said Rosalyn Ardoin, co-founder of Little Hands Hawaii."