The sunscreen you use could be hazardous to your health. That's the word from of the Environmental Working Group, which recently released its 2010 list of the best and worst sunscreens.
The group said the majority of sunscreens on the market don't work well, and called some of them dangerous.
The EWG named two chemical components found in many popular sunscreens. The first is oxybenzone. The group called it a hormone disruptor. A recent study out of the Centers for Disease Control found trace amounts of oxybenzone in 97% of adults. Oxybenzone is found in 60% of commercial sunscreens.
The second chemical is retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A. The problem there: the FDA did a study of Vitamin A creams and found that some appear to accelerate skin damage. The EWG said 40% of the sunscreens they evaluated contain retinyl palmitate. Overall, the EWG recommended only 8% of sunscreen products on the market.
So what's the deal? We talked to Dr. David Larson at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Larson didn't call the study alarmist, but did caution that people consider all the factors before changing their sun care habits.
"Those concerns are taken out of context. The science related to this is really in question," Larson opined. He added, "Sunscreens are not only safe but a necessary part of our life and should be used on a very regular basis."
That advice will save your life, said Susan Davidson. 13 years ago, the Elm Grove woman calls herself a former sun-worshipper.
"When I was a child we used bay oil and iodine or cocoa butter, just to get tan and didn't realize the bad effects of the sun," Davidson said. Then she took her children to the dermatologist for their acne, and instead found herself the patient. She had a large melanoma on her arm. Fortunately, the cancer hadn't penetrated too deeply, so she avoided radiation and chemotherapy, but it was still an ordeal.
"I thought I was going to die," she recalled. "It was very scary."
That scare changed Davidson's habits forever. She now applies sunscreen every day, and avoids peak periods of sun. When she does spend time outside, she's wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves. She's also changed her vacation schedule.
"We don't go to Florida for vacations anymore," she sighed.
So what do parents think of the EWG's warnings? We visited the wading pool at Jacobus Park in Wauwatosa. Parents everywhere were busy applying sunscreen to toddlers.
One woman, Renee, told us she chooses her sunscreen based on the protection it offers. "We're fair-skinned people so we have to be very vigilant," she said as she lathered on sunscreen. "I choose it based on components, you have to have UVA and UVB protectants, and I like zinc oxide."
Another mom, Katie, used a natural sunscreen for her children. "We're trying to stay away from chemicals as much as possible," she said. "Without knowing what's in things I prefer to just stick with natural products."
But all the moms at the pool agreed on one thing: no sunscreen, no day at the pool.
"If you're going to be outside the alternative is getting burnt and that's just not acceptable for us," one mother said.