Update on the State of Sunscreens: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same!

Every year around this time of the year, I scan industry trade rags and do some searching on the Internet in an attempt to find out what’s new in the market for sunscreens. And every year I marvel at how some things never seem to change! In fact they appear to be getting worse!

In spite of a growing body of increasingly credible evidence that turns everything we’ve been led to believe about sunscreens over the years on its head, companies are still producing essentially the same products, and packaging and marketing them in increasingly deceptive ways. Caveat emptor (buyer beware!) …

The FDA still hasn’t formally issued its new rules and guidelines for sunscreens with respect to UVA testing and labeling, which were informally adopted back in 2007 after an exhaustive 9-year review. This was supposed to happen in May and now the word is that it will happen later this year, probably in October. And in spite of the fact that there’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer, and the discovery that some sunscreen ingredients might actually increase our risk of getting melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer), women’s magazines, sun product manufacturers, and dermatologists still relentlessly and religiously repeat the mantra to wear sunscreen whenever we go outside, or avoid any exposure to the sun. Are they really that blind to their hypocrisy or are they waiting for a larger force (i.e. the FDA) to force them to sit up and fly straight?

Most experts agree that people should use sunscreens to protect their skin from the sun, but they disagree widely on how well they actually work. There’s so much conflicting information and outright disinformation on the subject how can anyone make a reasonable decision about what products to use? The simple fact is that sunscreens were never developed to prevent skin cancer. They were (and continue to be) designed primarily to prevent sunburn. And even though SPF ratings are notoriously unreliable people continue to mistakenly believe that using higher SPFs buys them a lot more time in the sun without risk, so sun care companies keep coming out with higher and higher SPFs. We’ve hit a new high (or new low depending on how you look at it) with SPF 100!

Almost in defiance of the FDA’s proposed regulation, these companies substantially increased their high-SPF offerings this year. According to the Environmental Working Group’s analysis of nearly 500 beach and sport sunscreens, nearly one in six products now lists SPF values higher than 50, compared to only one in the prior eight years. Neutrogena has six products labeled “SPF 100,” and Banana Boat has four.

About the only thing I can see that has changed is that more mainstream media are finally starting to question the safety of sun care products.

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