In the market for sunscreen? Of course you are, because you don’t want skin cancer. Good for you. Unfortunately, many sunscreen brands are full of ingredients that make them bad news for both the environment and your health. And, to further sun-block your attempts to stay UV-safe, misinformation about sun safety abounds. Here are some sunscreen shopping tips from She Does the City!

For a list of highly rated sunscreens, check out Environmental Working Group’s 2013 Guide. The site does a great job of explaining some of the super scary  chemicals  used to make sunscreen, and which brands to avoid. They have lists pointing you to the best Beach & Sports Sunscreens, Mosturizers with SPF, Lip Balms with SPF and Make Up with SPF, as well as awesome tips on sunscreen Do’s and Don’ts. For example “…high-SPF products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburns but upping the risk of other kinds of skin damage.” According to Consumer Report’s most recent sunscreen study, not all sunscreens are created equal and we shouldn’t use price as an indication of protection.

Last summer, in the States, the FDA made huge changes to the way sunscreen is marketed. Labels such as waterproof or sweat-proof have been banned and in their place companies must now offer a recommended time frame for effectiveness.  They’ve also increased consumer awareness about UVA radiation.

“Prior rules on sunscreens dealt almost exclusively with protection against sunburn, which is primarily caused by ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun, and did not address ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which contributes to skin cancer and early skin aging… Sunscreen products that pass the broad spectrum test [UVA protection is proportional to its UVB protection] are allowed to be labeled as “Broad Spectrum.” Scientific data demonstrated that products that are “Broad Spectrum SPF 15 [or higher]” have beenshown to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging when used with other sun protection measures, in addition to helping prevent sunburn.”

Health Canada also created the Guidance Document Sunscreen Monograph draft which will replace the Sunburn Protectants Monograph of 2006. Here are some of their updated guidelines for unacceptable uses or purposes that are misleading or counterintuitive for the use of sunscreen:

  • “Statements to the effect of “sunblock”, “sun shield”, or any other term implying that the product either prevents UV ray penetration and/or provides total or complete protection;
  • Provides X times your natural protection against sunburn;
  • For sun-sensitive or fair-skinned persons, to prevent sunburn;
  • Increases, perpetuates, or aids in the development of a tan
  • Allows you to stay longer in the sun;
  • Waterproof, sweat proof;
  • Representation that use of this product will repair or reverse any skin damage;
  • Sunscreens with insect repellents. (As the frequency of use and required dosage are contradictory for the safe use of such combinations, insect repellents and sunscreens may not be combined either as Monograph applications or outside of the Monograph.)”

I’ve been drawn in by a lot of these terms before and I definitely remember using a bug spray/sun screen combination. Yikes! It’s easy to be duped by misleading advertising but so important to get the right protection: 1 in 7 Canadians will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and skin cancer is the highest form of cancer in Canada. Its leading cause is exposure to UV rays. In a presentation by Loraine Marrett, Senior Epidemiologist at Cancer Care Ontario, I learned that melanoma is is the second most common cancer in young adults (ages 15-34) and sun exposure particularly increases risk of melanoma. 

Do your research. Shop wisely and apply often!