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April Newsletter

Know your Sunscreen
Source: Labour Environmental Alliance Society

Sunscreen is very important part of skin cancer prevention, and it's especially important for kids who can get a serious sunburn long before they feel any discomfort. For effective protection, the product should really be a sunblock (over SPF 12) and should have a sun protection factor of at least 15 and preferably 30 or higher.

Still, it's not always easy to know what's in the sunscreen you're using.

Sunblocks typically contain both chemical sunblock ingredients, such as methoxycinnamate and Parsol 1789, and physical sunblocks, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which scatter the ultraviolet light rays, reducing the exposure.

One chemical sunblock that was formerly used widely is para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). Because of the high incidence of PABA allergy, it's now rarely used as an active ingredient in sunblocks and many products are advertised as PABA-free.

Although most active ingredients that are generally used have not been extensively tested, they're generally safe, except that some people might experience skin irritation. One ingredient, titanium dioxide, is listed as a category C carcinogen (insufficient evidence for classification) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, but test results were based on inhalation of titanium dioxide dust. That would not be a factor in sunscreen use.

However, some of the non-active ingredients are ones you should probably avoid. For example, one sunscreen, the only one that also claims to offer relief from jellyfish stings, contains the carcinogen formaldehyde. Don't buy it.

Much more common ingredients, especially in sunscreen creams, are parabens, which have raised concern in recent research because they are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Parabens is the group name for several compounds, including methyl paraben and butyl paraben, which mimic the female hormone estrogen. Evidence suggests that they could affect reproductive development in boys, making sunscreens with parabens an issue for pregnant women as well as children.

A British researcher also found high levels of parabens in breast cancer patients and called for more research into their potential health effects.

Parabens, which are used as preservatives, are most often in cream sunscreen preparations, so it's possible to find products such as sprays or gels that are made without parabens. Ombrelle Sunscreen Spray SPF 15 and Coppertone Sport Sunblock Gel SPF 30 are two such products to consider.

For more on sunscreen ingredients (in U.S. products), check out the Environmental Working Group's report on sunscreens and tanning oils

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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