It's a thankless, but important task. SkinCancer.org reports more than 90% of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, and warns just one severe sunburn in childhood doubles the chances of developing a melanoma later in life. Although children with fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue or green eyes face the highest risk of sunburn, darker skinned children also need protection.
In spite of the risk, Dr. Perry Robins, M.D., president of The Skin Cancer Foundation says, "Fewer than one third of children between the ages of eight and 11 wear sunscreen." It's probably because we can't catch them ... but it sounds like we need to try.
The question is, once we've lured (or threatened) the kiddos into compliance, what products provide the most bang for our buck and make lathering up worth everyone's time? Turns out, picking a winner is surprisingly controversial.
According to the Environmental Working Group ( EWG), a non-profit organization devoted to researching and disseminating public health and environmental information, "nearly one in eight sunscreens do not block UVA rays." Ultraviolet A rays, or UVA rays, are known to accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer (International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2009). Dr. Darrel S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center and former president of the American Academy of Dermatology contributed to an article in the New York Times (July 7, 2010) What We Still Don't Know About Sunscreens saying, "Right now, consumers have no way of knowing what sort of ultraviolet A (UVA) protection a sunscreen offers -- SPF, or sun protection factor, only measures protection from ultraviolet B rays (UVB)."
The EWG also points out that until the Food and Drug Administration formally adopts the sunscreen regulations it drafted in 1978 (and updated in 2007), sunscreen manufacturers aren't even required to verify that their products actually work, including:"testing for SPF levels, checking waterproof claims, or providing UVA protection." Which means manufacturer's claims are currently operating on a sort of scout's honor basis.
Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Attorney General, has called the current situation a "marketing Wild West" in which "sunscreen makers can make claims that are unproven and untrue."
As a result, EWG suggests we skip straight to the ingredient list when reading labels and look for products that include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, Mexoryl or avobenzone. "Buying products with those ingredients offers some assurance that the user will get at least some protection from UVA rays."
On the flip side, the organization warns against products containing vitamin A (retinyl palmitate). Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group said in the same New York Times Room For Debate discussion, " A yearlong study by the Food and Drug Administration has produced sobering data indicating that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, may accelerate development of skin tumors and lesions when applied in the presence of sunlight. That wouldn't be a problem if the substance weren't an active ingredient in more than 40% of all sunscreens available in the United States."
According to the EWG website, "Since kids are more vulnerable to damage caused by the sun and to harmful effects of chemical exposure, you want to make sure you choose a sunscreen that is rated highly in terms of both effectiveness (against both UVA and UVB radiation) and safety."
They also suggest, "If your child is going to be swimming or playing in the water look for a sunscreen that says it is water resistant." The EWG warns, however, against using sprays and powders due to the dangers presented by inhaling sunscreen particles, as well as products that serve double duty as bug repellent. So much for multi-tasking.
To help consumers navigate the stormy seas of sunscreen, the EWG rated 1,400 sun protection products on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0-2 being "recommended" and 7-10 meaning "avoid." Each product is reviewed on the merits of UVB protection (SPF), UVA protection, UVA and UVB balance, sunscreen "stability," health concerns, and "other" concerns.
The highest rated products are mineral based, featuring zinc and titanium. Non-mineral sunscreens are also rated, but lose points on the basis of moderate to weak UVA protection, and chemicals the EWG considers to be potential "hormone dispruptors". As a result, the highest score given to non-mineral sunscreens is a "3."
This year's winners, earning the highest rating of "1" included:
Sunscreen Face Stick, SPF 30, Unscented
Sunscreen for Face and Body, Unscented, SPF 30
Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 30, Lightly Scented
Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPG 30+
Sunscreen Lotion No Fragrance, SPF 30+
Sunblock Stick No Fragrance, SPF 30+
SPF 45 Mineral Baby Moisturizer Unscented
Doctor T's Supergoop!
Hara Body Care
Sport SPF 30
Live Long Sunscreen, SPF 15
SPF 40 Kids
Kabana Skin Care
Green Screen Organic Sunscreen Fragrance Free, SPF 20
Green Screen Organic Sunscreen, SPF 22, Skin Tone Tinted
L'uvalla Certified Organic
SPF 20 Sunscreen Face/Body
Sunscreen, SPF 30
Marie Veronique Organics
Kid Safe Screen, SPF 25
Purple Prairie Botanicals
SunStuff, SPF 30
Sun Stick, SPF 30
All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Soleo Organics/Atlantis Resort All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Soleo Organics/Wyland Organics All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
All Natural Moisturizing Face Protection SPF 30
thinkbaby and thinksport
Sunscreen, SPF 30+
New Sunny Days Mineral All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Baby Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Sunscreen Sport, SPF 30+
To view the entire list, or find how your sunscreen scored, check out EWG's 2010 Sunscreen Guide. Once you've decided on the product that works best for your family, the trick is to use it. Often.
The American Cancer Society advises putting on sunscreen early, regularly and generously. Their advice: apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and approximately every two hours while in the sun. According to the EWG, studies have shown that consumers usually apply only one-fourth, to two-thirds the amount of sunscreen required to achieve the product's SPF rating. The FDA recommends applying one ounce, about a palm full, evenly to all exposed skin.