While dermatologists are conclusive that we should all be wearing sunscreen year-round, no matter the weather, the beginning of summer is a good time to check the expiration dates on your products and stock up on new skin protectors. But with sunscreen in the news recently — thanks to a rare statement on the subject by the Federal Food and Drug Administration — there's been considerably more confusion lately about the crowned-jewel of sun protection.
The statement came in response to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association around the "safety" of certain common sunscreen ingredients being absorbed into the skin. It found that, despite longtime claims that sunscreen doesn't absorb into the skin at high-enough levels to warrant concern, the four sunscreen ingredients it tested did absorb into the body through topical application at considerably high levels.
It's important to underscore that, according to the FDA, absorption doesn't make sunscreen inherently unsafe; still, the government agency has proposed additional safety testing for 12 active sunscreen ingredients that are currently commonplace in products available on the market because of their high levels of absorption. It's also looking into whether and to what extent the ingredients are absorbed into the body after they're applied, and is interested in further testing to determine whether these ingredients, at their particular absorption levels, may potentially increase users' risk for cancer, birth defects and more.
That all sounds a bit scary and may have your anti-chemical senses tingling, but Dr. Joshua Zeichner of Zeichner Dermatology in Manhattan told Fashionista that in the initial study cited by the FDA, high levels of sunscreen were applied to 75% of the body, which does not reflect real-world application of sunscreen. In everyday life, consumers don't apply as much sunscreen as they should, and they often don't reapply every two hours, which makes the absorption levels for the average consumer unclear.
To put it simply, we still need more information on this subject. And sunscreen is still the best way to avoid skin cancer (not to mention premature signs of aging). "We need more data to understand this issue fully," says Dr. Zeichner. "Based on what we know today, the benefit of wearing sunscreen in protecting the skin against cancer and premature aging outweighs the potential risks. If anyone is concerned with the use of chemical blocker sunscreens, mineral options that contain zinc oxide alone or in combination with titanium dioxide are a great option," explains.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer activist group which has pushed the FDA to do further safety studies on sunscreen, has done extensive investigating of its own into which sunscreen products are "safest," and it's a helpful resource, especially as we await the FDA's verdict on those 12 ingredients (which is expected to come at the end of the year). Each year, the EWG assesses sunscreen products' safety and efficacy with its own set of standards: health hazards, UVB protection, UVA protection, the balance of UVA and UVB protection and sunscreen stability. Each sunscreen product gets a rating based on those factors from one through 10, with one being the "safest" and 10 being the "least safe."
You can read the EWG's full 2019 report here, but we've also rounded up a selection of top product picks — all of which received either a one or a two rating — in the galleries below. Click through to see (and shop!) EWG-approved beach and sport sunscreens, SPF-spiked moisturizers and lip balms.
Beach and Sport Sunscreens
SPF Lip Balms
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