Safe Sun?

Some breaking news for those who like to bask in the sun. The Environmental Working Group has released its 2010 Sunscreen Guide. The not-so-good news? Nearly all commercial sunscreens contain ingredients the EWG says to avoid, including oxybenzone and vitamin A. There are only a few dozen the EWG recommends. You can search for their recommended sunscreens, or you can plug in the name of the sunscreen you’re using for you and your kids. Warning: the latter is likely to be worrying and discouraging. All of the ones I had in the house were there.

Is there cause for alarm? This piece, from the Huffington Post and with the advice of a dermatologist, says no. In spite of what alarmists may say or imply, if you’re going to be outside, properly applied sunscreen will help protect against skin cancer, so it’s better to use it than not. What’s safer than that? Staying out of the sun entirely, wearing protective clothes and headgear, or at least avoiding the peak hours.

Is there cause for concern? Yes. The FDA has not established guidelines for sunscreens, so there’s not regulation on dodgy ingredients. Further, there’s almost always conflicting information on what’s a good or bad ingredient.

What I did was throw away the old, badly rated sunscreens, then bought a tube each of two of the EWG’s recommended brands, Badger Unscented SPF 30 and Vanicream SPF 30. I got the Badger at my grocery co-op, and the Vanicream at Target, so neither involved a special trip.

And, for those still delusional that tanning beds are safer than the sun, a new study from the U of MN shows they increase the risk of cancer, even with the investigators looking at new types of tanning beds, which use a UV spectrum different from the sun and alleged to be safe. (The latter detail is from a scientist friend, though not included in the article.)

So, to sum up. No sun is safe sun in regard to skin cancer, though it is the best source of Vitamin D. Enjoy the sun in moderation. Be safe and smart about your choices. Use a safer sunscreen, and use it correctly. Reapply as needed. Stay out of the sun between 10 and 4. Wear a hat. Cover up.

I started using tanning beds when I was 17. I worked in a tanning salon for 9 months when I was 20. Then I had to see a dermatologist about a patch of skin; he cut it and several others out and found they were dysplastic–possibly pre-cancerous. He told me to never use a tanning bed or lay out again. Since then I’ve had more than a dozen patches of skin removed. Usually a patch has to be cut out twice. Once for the initial test, and again for complete removal. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is unpleasant and painful. I’ve been lucky–no melanoma. Yet.

Be careful out there.

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