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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 295

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sunscreens and Democracy

(Photos from Camp R.O.C.K. 2015 by Driftwood Johnnie)

Canoes and Democracy: We’ll be on the river 4th of July weekend with a group of creative writing students from Vermont*, a very fitting way to celebrate our nation’s independence. The canoe cradles one of the purest examples of democracy because everyone paddles together for the common good. And not because of some lofty ideal, but because you have to. In the canoe you have to put aside your personal differences and work in harmony with everyone around you. (Canoe carving is the same way). There is a captain and a lead paddler, but those two are just a couple of links in the chain. It takes all of the “links” paddling together to make the canoe go. The goal is not your own comfort. The goal is the integrity of the whole. Another goal is the enjoyment of the journey. A distant goal is a safe landing on that island you hope to reach. Sailing is similar, and so is rowing. Is it any wonder that sailboats, rowboats, and canoes play such an important role in the history of our country?

*This creative writing program is led by Mississippi writer Alan Huffman, author of the books Here I am (2014), Sultana (2010), Mississippi in Africa (2004), amongst many others. Organized by Putney Student Travel.

EWG 2015 Guide to Sunscreens

Maybe you will be outside this weekend enjoying the great outdoors? Please read the recently completed EWG 2015 Guide to Sunscreens. Especially if you have children. Physical blocks (sun protective clothing and wide-brim hats) are the very best protection. But you still need to protect your face and hands. Look for products with non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens. Avoid spray varieties! Spray Sunscreens have become wildly popular (25% of sales), but have been found in most cases to not be effective, and can be offensive to those around you -- who have to breathe or eat what you spray. Read below for more info, and go to the EWG website for the full story and a wide selection of the best sunscreens available.

Environmental Working Group 2015 Guide to Sunscreens

EWG Sunscreen Hall of Shame

There are a lot of sunscreens on the market: some good, some bad and then the shameful. Those in the last category are not only a waste of money and time but also potentially harmful. Here are our picks for products to banish from your beach bag.

Spray sunscreens can be inhaled, and they don’t cover skin completely. SPF values above 50+ try to trick you into believing they’ll prevent sun damage. Don’t trust them. SPF protection tops out at 30 to 50. Oxybenzone can disrupt the hormone system.

Retinyl palmitate may trigger damage, possibly cancer.

11 Worst Spray Sunscreens

These sunscreens are aerosol sprays with SPFs above 50+ and the harmful additives oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate:

Banana Boat Clear UltraMist Ultra Defense MAX Skin Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110

Coppertone Sport High Performance AccuSpray Sunscreen, SPF 70

Coppertone Sport High Performance Clear Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100+

CVS Clear Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100

CVS Sheer Mist Spray Sunscreen, SPF 70

CVS Sport Clear Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100+

CVS Wet & Dry Sunscreen Spray, SPF 85

Neutrogena Fresh Cooling Sunscreen Body Mist, SPF 70

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Spray, SPF 100+

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70

Neutrogena Wet Skin Sunscreen Spray, SPF 85+

12 Worst Sunscreen Lotions

These sunscreen lotions claim SPFs above 50+ and contain oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.

Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100

Coppertone Sport High Performance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100

Coppertone Sport High Performance Sunscreen, SPF 75

Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

Coppertone Ultra Guard Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70+

CVS Sport Sunstick Sunscreen, SPF 55

CVS Sun Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 100

CVS Sun Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 70

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Daily Liquid Sunscreen, SPF 70

NO-AD Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 60

NO-AD Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 85

Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70

11 Worst Sunscreens for Kids

These terrible kid and baby sunscreens have at least three strikes against them: 1) oxybenzone, 2) retinyl palmitate and 3) SPFs above 50+. Two have a fourth strike: they’re aerosol sprays that can harm sensitive young lungs. Convenient? Yes. Good for kids? Absolutely not.

Banana Boat Clear UltraMist Kids Max Protect & Play Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110

Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70

Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

Coppertone Kids Wacky Foam Foaming Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 70+

Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70+

Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

Kroger Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70

Kroger Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70

Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Beach & Pool Sunblock Spray, SPF 70+

Up & Up Kid’s Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

How EWG picked the Hall of Shame

1) Spray sunscreens

One in every four sunscreens in this year’s database is a spray. People like sprays because they’re easy to squirt on squirming kids and hard-to-reach areas. But they may pose serious inhalation risks, and they make it too easy to apply too little or miss a spot.

The FDA has expressed doubts about their safety and effectiveness but hasn’t banned them. As long as they’re legal, sunscreen manufacturers will make them.

2) Sky-high SPFs

One eighth of the sunscreens we evaluated this year boast SPFs above 50+. SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” but that outdated term refers only to protection against UVB rays that burn the skin. It has little to do with a product’s ability to protect skin from UVA rays, which penetrate deep into the body, accelerate skin aging, may suppress the immune system and may cause skin cancer.

The worst thing about high-SPF products is that they give people a false sense of security and tempt them to stay in the sun too long. They suppress sunburns but raise the risk of other kinds of skin damage. The FDA is considering barring SPF above 50+.

3) Oxybenzone

Half of the beach and sport sunscreens in this year’s guide contain oxybenzone, an active ingredient in sunscreens. But it penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can trigger allergic skin reactions. Some research studies, while not conclusive, have linked higher concentrations of oxybenzone to disorders, including endometriosis in older women and, lower birth weights in newborn girls.

4) Retinyl palmitate

Nearly 20 percent of the sunscreens and SPF-rated moisturizers and 13 percent of SPF-rate lip products in this year’s guide contain retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A. Night creams with this chemical may help skin look more youthful. But on sun-exposed skin, retinyl palmitate may speed development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies. Why does the FDA allow this “inactive ingredient” in sunscreens intended for use in the sun? The agency has been studying the chemical for years but hasn’t made a decision. We have. The definitive study may not have been done, but we think we know enough to believe you’re better off without sunscreens with retinyl palmitate.

Eight Little-Known Facts About Sunscreens

Do you depend on sunscreen for skin protection? Millions of Americans do, but they shouldn’t. The rate of melanoma diagnosis is increasing. The consensus among scientists is that sunscreens alone cannot reverse this trend. Yet a good sunscreen can play role in preventing sunburns that are a major risk factor for melanoma – provided you use it correctly.

Sunscreen should be just one tool in your arsenal. These eight little known facts about sunscreens will help you spot problem products and avoid getting burned.

1. There’s no proof that sunscreens prevent most skin cancer.

Rates of melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – have tripled over the past 35 years. Most scientists and public health agencies – including the FDA itself – have found very little evidence that sunscreen prevents most types of skin cancer. Read more.

2. Don’t be fooled by high SPF

High-SPF products tempt people to apply too little sunscreen and stay in the sun too long. The FDA has proposed prohibiting the sale of sunscreens with SPF values greater than 50+, calling higher SPF values “inherently misleading,” but it has not issued a regulation that carries the force of law. Twelve percent of sunscreens we evaluated this year advertise SPF values greater than 50+. Read more.

3. The common sunscreen additive vitamin A may speed development of skin cancer.

The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A to 19 percent of beach and sport sunscreens, 17 percent of moisturizers with SPF and 13 percent of lip products in this year’s database. Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging. But studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. Other governments warn that cosmetics may expose people to unsafe amounts of vitamin A They recommend against using vitamin-A-laden cosmetics on the lips and over large portions of the body. EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions that contain vitamin A, also called retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol. Read More

4. European sunscreens provide better UVA protection.

In Europe, sunscreen makers can formulate their products with any of seven chemicals that filter UVA rays. American manufacturers can use only three UVA-filtering ingredients. They have been waiting for years for FDA approval to use sunscreen ingredients widely available in Europe. The FDA has asked the makers of European sunscreen chemicals for more safety data, but until the FDA approves these ingredients and lifts restrictions on combining certain active ingredients, American consumers will be hard-pressed to find sunscreens with the strongest UVA protection. Read more.

5. Sunscreen doesn’t protect skin from all types of sun damage.

The sun’s ultraviolet radiation generates free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer. American sunscreens can reduce these damages, but not as effectively as they prevent sunburn. People can run into problems if they pick a sunscreen with poor UVA protection, apply too little or reapply it infrequently. The FDA should strengthen its regulations to ensure that sunscreens offer better protection from skin damage. Read more.

6. Some sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies.

There is no perfect sunscreen. Americans must choose between “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone system, and “mineral” sunscreens, made with zinc and titanium, often “micronized” or made up of nanoparticles. New evidence suggests that FDA should consider the hazards posed by inactive sunscreen ingredients that may trigger allergies. Read more.

7. Mineral sunscreens contain nano-particles.

Most zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens contain nanoparticles one-twentieth the width of a human hair, to reduce or eliminate the chalky white tint that larger particles leave on the skin. Based on the available information, EWG gives a favorable rating to mineral sunscreens, but the FDA should restrict the use of unstable or UV-reactive forms of minerals that would lessen skin protection. Read more.

8. If you avoid sun, check your vitamin D levels.

Sunshine causes the body to produce vitamin D, a critical function that sunscreen appears to inhibit. Vitamin D, technically a hormone, strengthens bones and the immune system and reduces risks of breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancers and perhaps other disorders.

About 25 percent of Americans have borderline low levels of vitamin D, and eight percent have a serious deficiency. Breast-fed infants, people with darker skin and people who have limited sun exposure are at greatest risk for vitamin D deficiency. Many people can’t or shouldn’t rely on the sun for vitamin D. Check with your doctor to find out whether you should get a vitamin D test or take seasonal or year-round supplements. Read more

Environmental Working Group 2015 Guide to Sunscreens

For the full report, please visit the EWG website:

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

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