By Jed Shlackman
As summertime approaches and residents and visitors flock to South Florida beaches and swimming spots there are more hazards present than oil slicks, alligators, or sharks in the water. Naturally, the risk of sunburn increases during summer months. This leads many to cover their exposed skin with various sunscreen products, believing that these protect the skin from harm. However, research publicized by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has shown that most sunscreens may present more harm than benefit. Skin cancer rates continue to rise and sunblocks fail to prevent long-term damage from the UV light exposure associated with skin cancers. Furthermore, many sunscreens contain hormone disruptors and Vitamin A derivatives that can foster skin cancers when applied topically and exposed to the sun. The Food And Drug Administration’s research has exposed the danger of Vitamin A compounds in sunscreens yet the agency failed to alert the public to this hazard or take action against the use of these compounds in sunscreens. The FDA has acknowledged that SPF factors reported by sunblock makers are often misleading, yet the manufacturers continue to include these misleading numbers on their products.
In the EWG’s annual report on sunscreens only 39 of 500 products tested were deemed safe and effective for consumers to use. None of the sunscreens widely sold in the USA are considered ideal by the EWG, as an ideal sunscreen would have to completely block harmful UV wavelengths, remain effective on the skin for several hours, and not break down into harmful chemicals when exposed to sunlight or other elements. In light of these findings consumers may want to consider traditional methods of sun protection – clothing, hats, umbrellas, natural shade, and avoiding exposure during mid-day hours. Good nutrition and anti-oxidant supplementation are also helpful in preventing and repairing damage caused by excessive sun exposure. Exposure to sunlight is healthy in moderation, so we can learn to manage our sun exposure to gain the benefits of sunlight (such as Vitamin D) while minimizing the hazards of being exposed for too long. So far, efforts to use chemicals on the skin to prevent sun damage seem to have backfired, as they’ve merely suppressed nature’s warning to us that we’ve been in the sun too long, offering a false sense of protection.