Protect Yourself Against Harmful Rip-offs

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Just in time for summer, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group announces the 2011 Sunscreen Hall of Shame—and that only about one in five sunscreens passes muster for safety and efficacy.

The Environmental Working Group’s “Sunscreens Exposed” report is overloaded with factoids that’ll make you shop more carefully before heading to the beach. Heck, things might seem so bad in the sunscreen aisle that maybe it’s just easier to skip the beach and stay indoors all summer.

Among the details in the report:

Three of five U.S. sunscreens wouldn’t be acceptable in Europe. EWG’s analysis of more than 500 beach and sport sunscreens with SPF ratings of 30 and higher finds that more than 300 of them, about 60 percent, provide inadequate UVA protection


About 1 in 6 beach and sport sunscreens claim SPFs greater than 50+, compared to 1 in 8 in 2009. Yet studies show that high-SPF users are exposed to as much or more ultraviolet rays than people who use lower SPF products. Why? Those big numbers give people a false sense of security. They wait too long before reapplying and stay out too long.

Also, the EWG is alarmed that some sunscreens still contain a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate. This ingredient, according to FDA research, may actually “heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin.”

Interestingly enough, the group’s Sunscreen Hall of Shame includes the FDA on its list for failing to regulate sunscreens, which the agency first promised to do starting in the 1970s. The list also includes high-end products such as Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Sun Defense for Face, which retails for $30 in a 1.7 oz tube. Despite the product’s name, experts say no sunscreen does the job for eight hours, and that to stay safe, you should reapply after every two hours in the sun.

So what sunscreens should you be using? The EWG recommends a whole bunch, starting with a hat and shirt (well, duh). All of the 128 recommended “best beach and sport sunscreens” contain the minerals zinc or titanium, and the list includes at least a few brands you’re probably familiar with such as Aveeno and Blue Lizard.

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