BY ELIZABETH FIEND LIVING EDITOR In 1978, the FDA established a labeling system for sun block that measures how well the product protects the skin from the ultraviolet B rays of the sun. This is the Skin Protection Factor, or SPF rating. UVB rays cause sun burn, skin wrinkling and cancer. The FDA said they’d get right back to us and establish a rating system for the other deadly rays, ultraviolet A, which penetrate the skin even deeper and also cause cancer and skin aging. Twenty-nine years later, we are still waiting. Yes, shocking but true, the SPF rating only tells half the story, meaning the general public has no way to judge how well their sun block is really protecting them. I’m fair-skinned and green-eyed, so it really pisses me off that the rating system — which might give us a fighting chance of protecting ourselves from skin cancer — was never finished. Especially in these troubled times, because even if our President has chosen not to believe, I know global warming and the degradation of the ozone layer is real.
To really protect yourself, you can’t just go by the SPF: You have to look at the ingredient list as well. This is stupid and frustrating, but do it anyway. The chemical ingredients to look for are: avobenzone, Mexoryl SX, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Check your brand for them. If not found, ditch your sun block, no matter how much you paid for it, and buy a new brand, one with the above ingredients.
The FDA has also allowed manufacturers to make untrue claims about sun block products. “All Day Protection” and “Water Proof” are bogus, false claims. They simply are not true for any sun block — you must apply all sun-blocking products every two hours and immediately after anything but the shortest of swims. Are you a big sweaty hunk? Right, apply sun block often.
Fortunately for us there is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), who have done the first-ever analysis of sun blocks, analyzing and rating 785 sun block products. Of the sun blocks with a SPF rating of 15 and over, 84 percent fail to adequately protect us from the sun’s harmful rays or contain chemicals or chemical combinations that may be harmful to our health. Some of these chemicals penetrate our skin and present considerable health concerns. Other products contain chemicals that actually break down in the sunlight, offering no protection at all!
There are 37 products labeled “the worst” sun blocks and the list is scary because it contains some of the most popular name brand products, things that always seemed safe to us like Coppertone Sport Sunblock Lotion (SPF 15); Nivea for Men Daily Protective Lotion (SPF 15); Banana Boat Suntanicals Sunscreen Lotion; Neutrogena Healthy Skin Face Lotion (SPF 15); Walgreens Sunscreen Lotion; Gillette Complete Skin Care, Facial Moisturizer (SPF 15); Avon beComing BRIGHTER DAYS moisturizers (SPF 15) and on and on.
These products fail because ingredients or combinations of ingredients have been linked to cancer, allergies, enhanced and dangerous skin absorption, and reproductive, developmental and organ toxicity PLUS they don’t even really protect you from the sun?s harmful rays!
Check the EWG?s list to see how your sun block is measuring up or to find the safest brands. The list was determined with two rating systems: One tells you how well the actual product protects you from the sun’s harmful rays. The second tells you how dangerous the chemicals in the sun block are for your body or the environment. The numbers are then tallied up and reported in an easy to read list at:
If you click on this link, I’d really like you to consider clicking on the EWG’s “Donate Now” button. This list is a life saver and no one but the Environmental Working Group is doing this type of investigative work for us and doing it as well. Throw them some cash.
Sources and for more information:
You can go to a web site provided by the EPA (they’re doing at least this). Plug in your zip code and check the UV rating each day in your hood. “3” or higher you’re in the danger zone, stay in the shade, lather up with the sun block. Right now Philly is at “very high,” or 9 out of 11:
There are shirts and hats that are made of a breathable fabric that actually blocks the sun. I wear my Solar Veil over-shirt when I’m in the sun for a long time, in the car, or for shorts bursts in the sun when I don’t feel like applying sun block. These clothing products really work!
ABOUT THIS COLUMN: At no time in recorded history have we possessed so much knowledge about health and nutrition, nor have we ever had such vast and effective machinery for disseminating that knowledge — and yet, for all intents and purposes, we live in hi-tech Dark Age with the vast majority of the global population essentially ignorant or confused about the basic facts of their own biology. How did this happen? Well, that’s a whole six-part mini-series in and of itself, but the short answer is that the bottom line of many a multi-national corporation is dependent on that ignorance, and vast sums of money are expended to maintain it. The global warming argument is a classic example. When scientific fact did not favor Big Oil, they hired their own scientists to to conduct and publish studies that contradicted the peer-reviewed facts about the environmental impact of carbon-based emissions. As a result, whenever the latest global warming news is relayed to the public, it always comes with the caveat that “some dispute these findings.” There was time when newspapers saw it as their duty to truth squad these debates, but that’s long since become a luxury most papers can no longer afford — better to hire another gossip columnist and give the people what they want. To fill this crucial gap, Phawker began publishing the JUNK SCIENCE column by Elizabeth Fiend, beloved host of Big Tea Party. Every week, Miss Fiend connects the dots to reveal a constellation of scientific facts that have been hiding in plain sight — scattered across the vast, cold reaches of the Internet. With a background in punk rock and underground comics, and longstanding employment as a library researcher, Miss Fiend doesn’t pretend to be a scientist or an expert. She does, however, know how scientific facts become diluted by corporate-sponsored non-facts, and every week she separates the smoke from the mirrors. Why? Because she loves you.