More concerns raised about quality of American sunscreens

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Working Group is out with its annual ratings and said most of the sunscreens available in this country are not nearly as good as they should be, and that some may contain worrisome ingredients.

The EWG analysis came exactly one week after Consumer Reports issued its annual guide to sunscreens. Consumer Reports tested more than 60 lotions, sprays and sticks and found 28 failed to meet the SPF claim on their labels.

But experts emphasize that even the best sunscreen won’t do the job if it is not used properly.

“The problem is this: most people don’t apply the right amount,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

He said a person of average size needs to slather about an ounce of sunscreen on exposed areas per application. And it is not enough to just apply it before you head out into the sunshine. Friedman said sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours.

“The issue is a lot of these sun filters actually break down with sun exposure,” he explained, adding they also can be pushed off the body by swimming or exercising and sweating.

The truth of the matter is there is no waterproof sunscreen, although some are water resistant for up to 80 minutes.

“So if you are in the water for 80 minutes, you have to come out, towel off, and put some more on because the effectiveness of that sunscreen is diminished,” said Friedman, emphasizing that sunscreen is the central component of sun protection, but not the only one.

Protective clothing also can help, as can seeking shade and staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when those burning rays are strongest.

While it is not unusual to see sunscreens with an SPF of 50 or even 75, Friedman says anything 30 or above is fine for most people, as long as it is used right.

Sunscreens generally have a shelf life of about three years, so leftover bottles, cans or tubes from last summer should be OK. But experts say if it is applied properly,  a container of sunscreen should be used up long before it reaches its expiration date.

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