June 27, 2011 in Features

Do Your Part: Sunscreen selection should not have oxybenzone

Terri Bennett McClatchy Newspapers
 

Do you know how long it’s been since the FDA took a hard look at the safety of sunscreens? Since the 1970s.

That’s why I was elated when the agency announced plans to crack down on sunscreen manufacturers. But it didn’t last long.

Yes, the FDA is cracking down on claims made on the outside of the sunscreen bottle, but they aren’t doing anything about a controversial chemical widely used inside.

No doubt, the sunscreen aisle is a confusing place to be. The claims about SPFs, Broad Spectrum protection and anti-aging benefits can be mind-boggling.

This is one place where the new FDA guidelines will certainly be helpful for consumers. Specifically, products labeled “Broad Spectrum” must meet the agency’s standards for protecting against both types of ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB.

Anti-aging products will have to be “Broad Spectrum” with a SPF of at least 15 and terms like “waterproof” or “sunblock” can no longer be used. The sun protection factor will also be capped at SPF 50.

What isn’t so sunny is the lack of regulation over a controversial sunscreen chemical – especially when there are other choices.

Oxybenzone is an active ingredient used in many sunscreens. It easily converts to free radicals when illuminated, like by the sun. Free radicals in our skin lead to everything from wrinkles to cancer.

More alarming, the CDC recently found oxybenzone in the urine of 97 percent of Americans tested, proving it is absorbed by the skin. The concern is if it’s absorbed into the skin and then exposed to sunlight it might become a free radical.

I contacted the FDA with questions about whether the agency plans to re-examine the safety of oxybenzone. The response was, “We continue to monitor the safety of all sunscreens, including those containing oxybenzone. If we become aware of safety data indicating that sunscreens are unsafe, we will take necessary action to ensure consumers have access only to safe and effective sun protection products.”

Am I proposing you stop wearing sunscreen? Of course not. It’s vitally important, but there are safer sunscreens that don’t contain oxybenzone.

Your best bet is mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Together they provide excellent protection.

Newer, chemically derived sunscreen ingredients that are safe and offer stronger protection are starting to appear on American shelves. They’ve been available in Europe for more than 20 years but the FDA hasn’t yet approved them for use in this country.

If you need help finding a better sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group has tested thousands of products and created an easy-to-use guide. They also have a free app to compare brands while you’re shopping.

You can find these links in the Green Guide To Summer at DoYourPart. com/columns.

Ultimately, I’m disappointed that more isn’t being done to ensure that the sunscreen we slather on our bodies is the safest available. Until then, remember that sunscreen is actually our fourth line of defense.

Limiting sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., wearing light-colored, long-sleeved clothing and donning a wide-brimmed hat will all help protect your skin.

So do your part and enjoy the summer sun while reducing your family’s exposure to another controversial chemical.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated columnist, and host of DoYourPart.com where you can find everyday green living ideas that are better for you and the planet. Send questions to terri@doyourpart.com.


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