Don't Get Burned: Check Labels before Using Sunscreen

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Don't Get Burned: Check Labels before Using Sunscreen


Byline: Jeremy Goldfmeier Scripps Howard News Service By Jeremy Goldfmeier Scripps Howard News Service

The sun can be a merciless force.

And while sunscreen is an outdoor necessity in any season, nowhere does the need for it become more apparent than when late spring bleeds into early summer. The Chicago area has already had a taste of summer with a handful of unseasonably hot 90-degree days this spring.

The Environmental Working Group, a consumer organization, is offering some advice in its 2012 "Skin Deep" sunscreen guide. The Washington-headquartered nonprofit scores hundreds of major brands of sunscreen based on their ingredients and effectiveness. You can view it at: [URL]ewg.org/2012sunscreen;[/URL].

This is the sixth year that EWG has released a sunscreen report, but there's an added incentive for the group to post this information this year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently backed off a June 2012 deadline for sunscreen manufacturers to refine the labeling on their bottles, eliminating misleading terms like "waterproof" and "sweat-proof," among other tweaks. That deadline has been pushed back to December for larger companies and December 2013 for smaller ones.

Here are a few things to look for in a sunscreen.

* Broad spectrum protection. The sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation falls into two categories: ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B.

Many commercial sunscreens focus their protection efforts on ultraviolet B rays -- the kind that causes sunburns (an easy way to remember: "B" is for "burn"). But they do little to shield against ultraviolet A, which does real damage -- contributing to skin cancer and early skin aging.

Products labeled with "broad spectrum" protect against both. It's the handiest shorthand for finding a well-rounded sunscreen.

However, the EWG cautions that the FDA has maintained lax standards in which products qualify for "broad spectrum," so sometimes it pays to dig a little deeper.

* Check the ingredients. Among the things you want to find in your sunscreen: zinc and titanium dioxide. These substances hold off ultraviolet A and don't penetrate the skin.

Meanwhile, there's a debate as to whether certain chemicals in sunscreen can do more harm than good. …

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