Sunscreen safety

Two years ago my “Sun safety” article discussed the importance of protecting our skin from the harmful effects of the sun by using protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen.  I thought I had made a good choice in using a broad-spectrum UVA-UVB sunscreen, with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.  But now I am learning that there are many conflicting reports about the effectiveness and safety of sunscreen products.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its fourth annual “Sunscreen Guide” last month, which recommends only 39 out of 500 beach and sport sunscreens for this season.  According to EWG, many sunscreen products contain red-flag ingredients, like vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) and oxybenzone.  The sunscreen that I had been using contained oxybenzone 6% as an active ingredient, so I now use one ofEWG’s top rated sunscreens.

Of course, the best sunscreen is a hat, shirt and a good pair of sunglasses, which I wore while doing our annual big wash and wax job on our trailer, upon our return from the beach last month.


The hat is Tilley’s broadest brim hat, the LTM2 Tilly Airflo Nylamtium Hat.  It is comfortable, lightweight, and comes with a tuck-away Wind Cord.  The white shirt is Silver Ridge II by Columbia Sportswear Company.  It is lightweight, comfortable and super-ventilated.  My extra-large SolarShield sunglasses are comfortable while providing Advanced UV Protection (and can fit over Rx glasses).  These items always travel with me when camping.

EWG points out that their “sunscreen database is dynamic, which means that the sunscreen ranking numbers may change based on evolving science, new information on UVA, UVB radiation and sunscreen ingredients, marketing conditions, or other factors.”  Light might be shed on the sunscreen controversy over the effectiveness and safety of sunscreen products if, and when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues sunscreen industry regulations, which they began drafting 32 years ago, according to The Huffington PostCongresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) has called upon the FDA to finalize sunscreen regulations.

One of the latest health concerns is the use of nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen products, as discussed in the AOL News article, “More Bad News About Sunscreens: Nanoparticles“.  This further underscores the importance and need for the FDA to develop and publish new sunscreen guidelines and regulations.

See this excellent YouTube video, “Go Green with Sunscreen“, for tips on staying safe in the sun.


Now I think I’m ready for those bright, sunshiny days!


  1. insightout says

    Bill, your last photo speaks clearly; a cold Heineken, a sunbrella, and an ocean breeze. Our oldest son lives on the northwest coast of Ireland, near Sligo, and they pray for sun damage….to no avail.

    Their skin is as white as your silver ridge shirt. Practicing dermatology on the Emerald Isle is as arcane as being the meteorologist in San Diego. Nothing changes.

    Let’s pray to the Tiki God for resolution in the Gulf, and hope the finger pointing will be replaced with a get-it-done attitude. The nice thing about the APZ rally, no TV for five days, so we didn’t watch the gut-wrenching underwater video playing out nightly on the networks.

    Good advice on the sunscreens. My tube of ZnO ointment expired in 1988.

  2. Bill D. says

    Thanks, Dr. C.

    At least your vintage ZnO ointment is not composed of nanoparticles!

  3. says

    That Tilly hat is a better choice than the one pictured in your “wash wax and treat” blog … both for UV protection and fashion!

  4. says

    I enjoy reading and finding that we share so many of the same ideas. Thanks for living such a wonderful life…and being willing to post a bit of it for us.

  5. says

    Thanks, Rich and Ginger, for your comments.

    Sun exposure has benefits, such as preventing vitamin D deficiency (which may play a role in depression, among other things), but sun exposure can also damage skin and cause premature skin aging and skin cancer.

    Last week, while camping in the mountains, I listened to a timely and fascinating KPBS-FM These Days program, “How Much Is Too Much Sun?”.

    Two doctors, one pro-sun and one anti-sun (in terms of advice to patients), discuss these and related issues, such as the use of sunscreen.

    Listen to the program or read the transcript here: