Everything You Need to Know About Sunscreen
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summer's here and the time is right ... for photos, to get us in the proper spirit for what's ahead. We'll take a look first at the good things augured by summer's arrival. Then, we'll remind you of the bad, just because we're realistic like that. Our planet's Northern Hemisphere is ready for its metaphorical beachwear, as of June 21, which marks the summer solstice. Socially, the summer solstice means it's time for school to be out, for swimming, for barbecues. But astronomically speaking, it marks the longest day of the year. Of course, the poor Southern Hemisphere gets to start winter, but that's another story, and probably another gallery! This image comes from NOAA's GOES-13 satellite and shows the Americas on June 21, 2012.Sun Celebrates Solstice with Flare
Life's a beach, right? What's more gooder than that? Time to break out the volleyball nets, accidentally crush children's sand castles, or just run in the water and then run back out again because it's
too cold for your liking.Top 10 Beaches of 2013
Don't have access to a beach? Go jump in a lake! OK, that came out wrong. Er, enjoy some fun in the body of water of your choice, if you can find one.Lake That Turns Animals to Stone? Not Quite
California State Parks
Hiking is the only way to climb, for some summer-timers. You might step out on the Tahoe Rim Trail, for example.VIDEO: Monster Goldfish Invade Lake Tahoe
For kids, summer means school's out and it's time for swimming. They'll spend as much time wet as dry.Swimming Apes Take to the Pool
Summer is also a time for barbecues. Your resident grill master will be rested and ready, after a winter spent staring forlornly at the giant Weber under the tarp.12 Must-Haves for Great Grilling and Better BBQ'ing
If a BBQ's not your thing, maybe it's sailing. Of course, you might not have access to PlanetSolar’s catamaran Tûranor, the largest ship in the world to run on solar power alone, but you'll find a way to sail
in the water. An inflatable raft is always nice.Remote-Control Cargo Ships Could Set Sail
Albert Kok, Wikimedia Commons
And, now, we must turn to the bad ledger for summer. Bad as in worrisome, dangerous, or ... just a little bit annoying. Remember the beach we saw earlier? Here's an unwelcome guest near any beach. Sadly, it will be a lucky summer if we don't hear many stories of sharks lingering too close to shore (and all of those big and small feet sloshing around in the surf). Sure, the shark can't help being a shark, but we'd rather he just stick to deeper waters.Shark-Eat-Shark: Are Great White Sharks Cannibals?
Sizzzzzzle. We won't find anyone willing to put sunburns in summer's "good" column. Thankfully, there are plenty of sticks, creams, roll-ons and other assorted goop we can slather on ourselves to keep the sun's rays at bay. We all know the sunblock drill by now ... right?
With the increased heat of summer, up also goes the likelihood of wildfires. We can all hope they're held at bay this summer, and that people are careful with their flammables out in the forest.PHOTOS: Wildfire Season Off to a Hot Start
Just as likely as wildfires will be a heat wave or three. We're torn about this particular scene. No one likes a prolonged heat wave, but what's not fun about standing in a fountain? Perhaps this is a perfect place to end our gallery. Have a great summer, DNews readers!
Although experts disagree on which products are safe, they all agree that we should be slathering on some type of product when you can’t avoid the sun.
But it gets tricky when it comes to figuring out which to pick. With ever more products available, and with contradictory reports on safety, navigating the sunscreen aisle can be tricky.
Updated label regulations from the FDA changed the way manufacturers showcase their products, with SPF limited to "50+" and skin cancer alerts on products that aren't broad spectrum. Water resistance claims are more targeted, and claims of products that are "waterproof" or "sweatproof" have been eliminated.
The Environmental Working Group, a public health nonprofit, started evaluating sunscreens eight years ago in an effort to raise awareness of potentially dangerous ingredients in products. It bases its ratings for safety and sun protection on ingredients, UVA (ultraviolet A, long-wave rays) and UVB (ultraviolet B, short-wave rays) protection and the ratio between the two, and how long the product remains effective.
The reports have been called alarmist in the past, and the American Academy of Dermatology continues to stand by its position that all sunscreens in the United States are safe. EWG says it's simply working from the precautionary principle. And despite its cautious approach, more and more products are getting the green light since the EWG has been analyzing sunscreens (although few of them are mass marketed brands).
Hidden Sunscreen Additives
Advocates are concerned about a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, that's often added to sunscreen, referring to a study that suggested that it can speed the development of skin tumors and lesions in the presence of sunlight.
"Clearly, the FDA's regulations on sunscreens are doing little to stem the tide of poorly-made products, and that could have serious effects on Americans' health," Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at EWG, said in a press release. "Since we started this project eight years ago, we’ve seen few improvements in the safety or efficacy of sunscreens sold by mass-marketed brands."
Others worry about vitamin D deficiency if you're always wearing sunscreen.
"This is a scenario where you can have your cake and eat it, too," said dermatological surgeon Jerry Brewer of the Mayo Clinic. "You can get vitamin D from the sun and your diet, and you can take a supplement if you're not getting enough from the sun." About 10-15 minutes of sun exposure is good for your daily vitamin D dose, depending on your skin tone.
Mineral vs. Non-Mineral
The debate between mineral (or physical) vs. non-mineral (or chemical) sunscreens seems to provoke the most passion between the "play-it-safe" camp and those who believe concerns have been overly hyped, and that the benefits of using any sunscreen far outweigh the risk.
Mineral sunscreens, which the EWG favors, use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to help shield your skin from the sun -- and this year, you're likely to see more products of these type lining the shelves of your local co-op. The nano- and micro-sized particles are not believed to penetrate the skin.
More traditional products rely on octisalate (found in 59 percent of products, according to the EWG), oxybenzone (found in 52 percent) and avobenzone (found in 49 percent). Oxybenzone presents the most concerns; it can trigger allergic reactions, is a potential hormone disrupter, and penetrates the skin in relatively large amounts, according to the EWG.
"There has been a lot of hype about possibly causing endometriosis or increasing skin cancer," Brewer said. "The bottom line is, sunscreen continues to be one of the most effective methods of sun protection available."
Oxybenzone has been approved by the FDA since 1978.
Know your creams to stay protected. ThinkStock
"Available peer-reviewed scientific literature and regulatory assessments from national and international bodies do not support a link between oxybenzone in sunscreen and hormonal alterations, or other significant health issues in humans," said Dr. Daniel M. Siegel, president of the AAD, in a 2012 statement.
"The FDA has approved oxybenzone in sunscreen for use on children older than six months, and dermatologists continue to encourage protecting children by playing in the shade, wearing protective clothing and applying broad-spectrum sunscreen."
Lotion or Spay?
Despite the convenience of spray sunscreens, most groups are recommending avoiding or limiting use of them out of concern that nano-particles find their way into lungs. The FDA has requested data from manufacturers before making a recommendation, and the AAD and Consumer Reports say to use with caution, especially on children. EWG recommends avoiding them entirely.
Should You Tan At All?
Brewer often gets asked, What's the right amount of tan I can get?
"The strict medical answer is that the sun is a proven carcinogen," he said. "It's probably the most common carcinogen known to man...so there really is no tan that is a healthy tan. Any amount of tan means your skin has been exposed to a carcinogen which increases the chances of cancer years later...and if you're wearing sunscreen and still getting tan, then you're not putting it on often enough or thick enough."
The EWG recommends avoiding the sun during peak hours and wearing naturally sun-resistant clothing (hold it up to the sun to see how much light gets through), hats, and sunglasses, in combination with a safe sunscreen.
"If I were giving recommendations, I'd say to find something you'll use," Brewer said. "I get asked all the time, what's the right sunscreen for me? I can explain what SPF means, but the bottom line is, if you're going to use the SPF 15 every day because it's easy to put on," that's probably the best choice. It's the habit that’s protective. Even an SPF of 15 put on daily can decrease the chances of skin cancer by 50 percent over a person's lifetime.