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Sun Protection

by Terry Sovil

NOTE: as of July 2015: This article was written in 2011 and some things may have changed. Always a good idea to check out some reliable places for up-to-date information. The EWG is a good source: EWG Sunscreen Executive Summary

NOTE: as of May 17, 2016 There have been two studies done that show that sunscreen contains chemicals that can destroy coral. These studies show that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off all manner of water users (swimmers, scuba, snorkelers) into our waters.

A brief summary of their findings:

Between 6000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers, scuba divers, and snorkelers into coral reef environments each year. Even more sunscreen pollution can reach coastal areas via waste water discharges. Up to 10% of the world's coral reefs may be threatened by certain chemicals found in most sunscreens.

Four common sunscreen ingredients were shown to kill or bleach coral at extremely low concentrations (as low as one drop in 6.5 Olympic sized swimming pools).

  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3) - Disrupts coral reproduction, causes coral bleaching, and damages coral DNA. Oxybenzone is found in over 3500 sunscreen products worldwide.
  • Butylparaben - Preservative ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching.
  • Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) - Sunscreen ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching.
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC) - Sunscreen ingredient shown to cause coral bleaching. Allowed in Europe and Canada, not in USA or Japan.

What can YOU do?

  • Look at the active and inactive ingredients on your sunscreen label. Do not use a sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or the other ingredients listed above that are proven to harm coral.
  • Reef safe claims on sunscreen labels are unregulated and therefore potentially meaningless. You really have to look at the ingredients and judge for yourself.
  • Use a water resistant sunscreen which will be more likely to stay on your skin and out of the water. Water resistant claims are regulated by the FDA. Learn more about water resistant sunscreens.
  • Use a sunscreen that has been tested biodegradable. This claim is under-regulated so you may need to contact the company to verify their claim. This ensures that the product will break down in the environment. Learn more about biodegradable sunscreens.
  • Use common sense before even reaching for a sunscreen. Cover yourself with a hat and shirt (or a rash guard in the water), and seek shade during peak sun hours.

Park Service, PADI (the Professional Association of Underwater Instructors), and numerous eco-tour operators (including The US National coral reef parks in Mexico) recommend that you avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone and use only mineral based sunscreens to help protect coral reefs.

2015 October: Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Downs C.A. et al. - CLICK HERE to read an explanation of the study by the principal author.

2008 April: Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections. Environmental Health Perspectives. Danovaro R, et al. - CLICK HERE to read the full article.

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Suntan Lotion DisplayWho hasn't sunburned on a prized vacation? What can you do for protection? With over 1700 products on the market which ones really work? Skin cancer is increasingly common so choices you make could have real impact. How are suntan lotions, sunscreens and sun blocks different? What exactly do you need protection from? All products offer some level of protection; the important difference is in how much protection.

Your goal is protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are two types: UVA and UVB. UVA rays are "ultraviolet A" rays. These penetrate the skin, break down collagen and can trigger connective-tissue damage resulting in wrinkles and skin cancers. UVA rays are present all day and penetrate clouds and glass. UVB rays are "ultraviolet B" rays. These cause sunburn on the surface of the skin. Most sunscreen products focus primarily on blocking UVB rays. You want protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Sun Screen Product DisplaySPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a numeric rating that indicates how well the product blocks harmful rays. SPF 15 blocks 93% - effectively SPF 2 - and is effective for everyday use. SPF 30 - effectively an SPF 3 - blocks 97% and is suitable for extended exposure. Higher SPF ratings do not offer any additional protection. An SPF of 100 is effectively an SPF 3.2. SPF also applies only to UVB rays. Check for UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum coverage. A higher SPF may indicate more water resistance or more sweat proof.

A suntan lotion (sunscreen) offers less protection than a sunblock; it is used to tan without burning. A sunblock will block as much as possible. Galt Technology, established 1995, has one of the oldest web sites on the web and has distinguished themselves in their studies. They review, test and rate products of all kinds including sunscreens.

Sun Screen Displays OverwhelmingGalt Technology says sun protection products must contain titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) or Mexoryl SX . Mexoryl is high on the list of "must haves". The best sunscreen should contain Mexoryl which blocks the wrinkle causing UVA rays. The best sunblock should contain avobenzone and Mexoryl which are very effective in blocking UVA rays. Physical sunscreens, vs. chemical, are made with minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that form a protective layer on the skin and block the harmful rays. Of the 500 most common products on the market, only 39 were found to be effective by the EWG (Environmental Working Group).

With skin cancer sharply increasing a report released in 2010 by EWG drew much attention. The year-long study showed many of the products on the market may actually accelerate cancer by increasing the speed malignant cells develop and spread. The ingredient blamed is Vitamin A labeled "Retinol" and "Retinyl palmitate".

The study showed the inclusion of Vitamin A caused tumors and lesions to develop up to 21% faster in lab animals than in creams Vitamin A free. The FDA (USA Food and Drug Administration) appears to have known for over a decade yet released no guidelines or warnings. In June, 2010 Senator Schumer asked the FDA to share data on the possible sunscreen chemical-cancer link.

No Ad ProductsWhat are the most common types of skin cancers? The sun's UV rays are the most common cause with over 1,000,000 people affected each year. There are three types:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma - Usually found in places on the body that have been exposed to the sun, like ears, the face and the mouth. Symptoms include a bump that turns into an open sore, gets larger and a sore that won't heal. Untreated, it can spread quickly to other parts of the body (lymphatic system, bloodstream, and nerve routes).

Basal Cell Carcinoma - Causes more than 75% of skin cancers, it is the most common skin cancer. Most commonly found on the face, neck, and hands. It is highly treatable and rarely spreads. Symptoms include a sore that oozes or bleeds, a redness area that is irritated, a yellow or white area that resembles a scar, and a pink pearly bump.

Melanoma - The most dangerous and deadly; it can develop on any part of the body, but arms, legs and trunk are the most common areas. Detected early, it is highly treatable. Symptoms include a mole, freckle, or new/existing spot that changes color in size, shape, and color. It may have an irregular outline and possibly be more than one color.

Is a product a drug or a cosmetic? It is often determined by its intended use and any manufacturer claims. If a claim is made that indicates a product is a drug it cannot be marketed as a cosmetic. If the drug-related claim is removed the product may be classified as a cosmetic. See the table for a product classified in various countries.

The EWG states that true protection starts with clothing. Hats, shirts, pants and staying in the shade are the most reliable sun protection available. The American Cancer Society (ACS) logo only means the companies paid a royalty fee for the right to display the logo!

TOP 5 REVIEWED by Consumer Search: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 30 No-Ad Sunblock Lotion SPF 45 Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+ Banana Boat Sport Performance Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 100 Badger SPF 30 for Face & Body

Table of Classification as Drug or Cosmetic by Country
  Australia Canada New Zealand United Kingdom/EU United States
with Sunscreen
Therapeutic Good Drug Cosmetic Cosmetic Drug and Cosmetic

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