Most popular sunscreens aren’t safe or don’t work well

Photophobic doctors and health experts scare you into thinking you need to slather on sunscreen anytime you go out in the sun. In fact, they tell you to apply the sunscreen before you even leave the house…so your skin doesn’t soak up even one pure ray of sunshine.

But that’s bad advice any way you slice it.

First, as I’ll explain in a moment, most sunscreens on the market contain harmful ingredients or just don’t live up to their promises of protection.

Second, as I warned yesterday, you need to spend some time in the sun every day without sunscreen. Sun exposure activates your skin’s natural production of vitamin D. And vitamin D protects you against any number of diseases. Including skin cancer itself, as I discussed yesterday.

In fact, in yesterday’s study, researchers linked low vitamin D levels with thicker, more aggressive forms of malignant melanoma skin cancer. (Malignant melanoma causes just 9 percent of all cancers. But it’s the one deadly form that invades and spreads.)

Unfortunately, all the photophobic advice to avoid the sun contributes to lower vitamin D levels, which as that study showed, increases melanoma’s thickness, a key indicator of aggressiveness. Furthermore, the researchers found sun exposure, sunburns, or other kinds of solar damage to the skin did not impact tumor thickness.

Of course, when you do plan to spend more than 15 minutes in the sun, you may want to think about some form of skin protection. Last month, I told you about some natural ways to protect your skin.

If you want to use a commercial sunscreen, choose carefully…

A new study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)–whose reports on bottled waters I will cover in the July Insiders’ Cures newsletter–tested 1,700 commercial sunscreens, lip balms, and skin moisturizers.

They found 80 percent of sunscreens on the market provided inferior sun protection…they don’t live up to their claims…and/or they contain harmful chemicals. Well-known brands–such as Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Coppertone, and NO-AD–make many of the questionable products.

And Neutrogena is a big offender…

Neutrogena calls itself “dermatologists’ #1 recommended brand.” (Of course, dermatologists are also the first to recommend completely staying out of the sun. So that’s not saying much.)

Neutrogena’s sunscreens made it onto EWG’s “Hall of Shame” because of overstated safety claims. For example, its Pure & Free Baby sunscreen claims to give “special protection from the sun and irritating chemicals.” They also say it’s “hypoallergenic.”

But the product actually contains a preservative called methylisothiazolinone (MI). Some studies show this ingredient does cause strong allergic reactions. In fact, two years ago in Europe, they banned MI completely because it can cause allergic reactions and eczema.

In addition, more than 80 percent of Neutrogena’s products contain oxybenzone, a chemical that can enter the bloodstream through the skin and disrupt the endocrine system. Lastly, one-third of Neutrogena’s products contain retinyl palmitate, a synthetic form of vitamin A linked to health problems in some studies.

Johnson & Johnson, which makes Neutrogena, as well as the metabolic poison Tylenol, challenges EWG’s findings. It maintains their products meet federal regulations… just like Tylenol does. (Feel better now?)

Many other brands made it onto EWG’s “Hall of Shame” because they overstate their SPF protection.

At SPF levels as low as 18, you block UV rays. (You also block any chance of activating any vitamin D in the skin.) But sunscreen makers try to make you think

ever higher SPF levels–above 50, 70, or even 100-plus–are progressively more effective.

But that’s simply not true.

Research shows these high SPF levels don’t offer more protection against UV-A rays that can accelerate skin aging and suppress the immune system. But they do interfere with your own ability to know when it’s time to get out the sun.

Even the FDA says these high SPF levels don’t provide added protection. In fact, they give consumers a false sense of protection.

Fortunately, you do have safer options. More than 200 brands earned high marks from EWG for safety and effectiveness. Among the best were John Masters Organics, Seventh Generation, Alba Botanicals, Blue Lizard, Bull Frog, Burt’s Bees, Earth’s Best, Nature’s Gate, Raw Elements USA, Tropical Sands, and True Natural.

As I said before, you were made to go outside and get some healthy sun exposure each day–at least 15 minutes. Sun exposure ups your vitamin D production. And it helps keep your skin healthy, as yesterday’s study showed. Sun exposure also helps the retina of your eyes and the pineal gland of your brain, which responds to sunlight for daily metabolic regulation and healthy sleep. The brain also needs vitamin D and sunlight to regulate mood.

Of course, if you’re fair-skinned and want to spend all day poolside or on the beach, select one of EWG’s recommended sunscreens. You can go to their website for more information. Or better, yet, make your own sunscreen.

Last, even if you do spend time daily in the sun this summer, make sure to keep up with your daily regimen of 10,000 IU of vitamin D. Research shows this extra amount doesn’t harm you. If anything, you will benefit from the added D at this time of year.