Sunscreen Buying Guide: What To Avoid04:58
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Bernadine Boyce, of Allentown, Pa., applies sunscreen to Bruno Barber, 5, of Atlantic City, as mom, Natalia Barber, watches in Atlantic City, N.J., in June 2006. (Mary Godleski/AP)
Bernadine Boyce, of Allentown, Pa., applies sunscreen to Bruno Barber, 5, of Atlantic City, as mom, Natalia Barber, watches in Atlantic City, N.J., in June 2006. (Mary Godleski/AP)

The labels on most sunscreen products look a bit different this season.

Gone are terms such as "waterproof," "sweat-proof" and "sunblock" — attributes the Food and Drug Administration says aren't actually possible in sunscreen.

"A consumer wanting to buy a sunscreen product still cannot be assured that the product that they're picking up on the shelf is safe and effective."

The FDA also requires that in order for a manufacturer to put the words "broad spectrum" on a label, the product needs to go through testing to prove it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

UVB rays are the ones we are most familiar with — they are what cause tans and sunburns. UVA rays are longer and penetrate the skin deeper. They're associated with skin damage, skin aging and skin cancer.

Nneka Leiba, senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group and an author for the group's 2013 Guide to Sunscreens, said the FDA has been promising these standards since 1978.

"This is a minimal step," Leiba told Here & Now. "A consumer wanting to buy a sunscreen product still cannot be assured that the product that they're picking up on the shelf is safe and effective."

Even though sun protection awareness has increased in recent decades, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise. Leiba says this has to do with a combination of factors, including inferior sunscreens on the market and consumer misuse.

"Also, the FDA has not set guidance on certain ingredients in sunscreens, such as retinol palmitate, which government testing has shown will increase the risk of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin," she said.

Leiba offers the following dos and don'ts for consumers:

  1. Do use sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These offer broad spectrum protection and have minimal absorption through the skin.
  2. Don't use sprays or powders.
  3. Don't use products containing oxybenzone, which readily penetrates the skin.
  4. Don't use sunscreens over SPF 50.

Additional guidelines can be found at the link below:

Guest:

  • Nneka Leiba, senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group and co-author of the group's 2013 Guide to Sunscreens.

This segment aired on June 3, 2013.

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