Why Can’t Kids Bring Sunscreen To School?

It’s a hot, sunny day. Your progeny is going on a fieldtrip to a literal field, where she will likely find little shade. Can you throw a bottle of sunscreen in her backpack with strict instructions to slather it on? That depends on where you live.

Because the Food and Drug Administration considers sunscreen an over-the-counter drug, most schools around the country do as well, reports The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog.

Much like other things — allergy medications or even ibuprofen — children can’t bring these products to school without a doctor’s note, and often they have to bring it to the nurse to even use it.

So while you could load your kid up with sunscreen before they leave, they won’t be able to reapply at any point during the long school day — potentially a big problem if they’re outside.

Some states are working to change this with legislation, however: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Utah, and Washington have all enacted laws in the last four months that allow children to use sunscreen both in school and at after-school activities. In Arizona, New York, And Washington, the laws also allow sunscreen at summer camps.

California, New York, Oregon, and Texas already lifted the sunscreen ban in schools. Some states may vary in their rules on a county-by-county basis. For example: Public schools in Arlington, VA have an OTC medical exemption for lip balm and sunscreen.

When it comes to sunscreen use for kids, “parents, I think, are the best decision-makers,” State Sen. Terry Burton, a co-sponsor of the Mississippi bill to promote sun safety, told Stateline. “The school should not interfere with that decision that a parent makes to protect their child.”

It’s also important that kids are able to put on their own sunscreen, notes Rhode Island Rep. David Bennett, sponsor of a bill that has passed the lower house and is now in the Senate.

“The kids are impatient. They’ve got 20 minutes. They’re not going to stand in line for 20 minutes” for a teacher to apply it, he says. “By the time she gets done with the last kid, the 20 minutes is going to be over.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, dermatologists would love it if kids could bring sunscreen to school. That includes a coalition of medical groups — which includes the American Academy of Dermatology Association and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association — that has been pushing for sunscreen legislation.

The surgery group wrote model legislation and set aside $30,000 in grants for dermatology organizations around the country to lobby for the bill, while the dermatology association also provided advocacy funding to state groups, Stateline notes.

Getting four state laws passed in three months can be attributed to the fact that this is an issue that affects folks on both sides of the aisle, these groups say.

“Everybody sees that kids need to be protected from skin cancer and they should be protected with sunscreen,” Terry Cronin, a dermatologist and head of the advocacy working group for the dermatologic surgery society, told Stateline. “Everybody sees that kids need to be protected from skin cancer and they should be protected with sunscreen.”

It’s not like anyone wants kids to get burned, but there are those who have voiced objections to some of these measures. The Rhode Island Certified School Nurse Teachers Associations, for one: The group thinks sunscreen should be kept out of the classrooms because other kids could have allergies to the ingredients in some products.

“We’re not against sunscreen,” Diane Kowal, the group’s president, told Stateline. “There just needs to be language to protect everyone, from the person putting it on to the kids sharing it.”

73 Percent Of Sunscreens Don’t Work

I recently took a trip to Turks & Caicos with some friends and their daughters for a week-long vacation. One of the first things I did was make sure the teenage girls took notice of the very dark, very ugly scar on my chest, a result from surgery to remove skin cancer. They were grossed out, but they got the message: Worshipping the sun without protecting your skin can lead to skin cancer. That can lead to ugly, visible scars — and that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky it can lead to considerably more serious health problems.

Fortunately, these girls have grown up with the knowledge that sunscreen is important and have been slathered and sprayed most of their lives — unlike my generation, which thought using baby oil to get darker faster was a brilliant idea. But not all products designed to protect skin from the sun are created equally. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2017 Guide to Sunscreens, almost three-fourths of the products the group examined “offer inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone, a hormone disruptor, or retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin.”

“The vast majority of sunscreens available to Americans aren’t as good as they should be,” said Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at EWG and lead author of the guide. “Sunscreens will not improve until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets stronger rules, reviews harmful chemicals and allows the use of new ingredients that offer stronger UVA protection.”

Looking beyond SPF

The guide helps consumers choose the best sunscreen for their needs, and it’s not as easy as choosing the can or tube with the highest SPF (sun protection factor). According to EWG, higher SPF ratings don’t protect much more than lower ratings. In fact, they may give people a false sense of safety, spending more time in the sun or not reapplying sunscreen because they assume the higher SPF will last longer than it does.

In fact, in 2011, the FDA proposed capping SPF values at 50+, as most other industrialized countries do since the higher numbers don’t make a significant difference. The rule has yet to be finalized, and while the FDA has held off a final decision, the number of sunscreens that claim an SPF of 70 and higher are increasing. In 2007, when the EWG published its first annual sunscreen guide, only 10 sunscreens they looked at had an SPF of 70 or higher. This year there are 69 products with an SPF over 70.

What to look for in a sunscreen

If the SPF isn’t going to help you make the best choice, what will? There are variety of things to look for when choosing sunscreen.

When choosing a sunscreen, EWG says to look at the ingredients list. They recommend sunscreens contain zinc oxide, avobenzone, and mexoryl sx. Look for sunscreens that are creams, have broad spectrum protection (both UVB and UVA rays), are water-resistant (which does not mean waterproof), and with an SPF of 15-50, whichever you determine fits your needs.

What to avoid in a sunscreen

There are certain things you want to avoid, according to EWG. If the ingredients list contains oxybenzone, vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), or added insect repellent, pass it on by. Also, they say to avoid sprays, powders and any sunscreen with an SPF above 50.

It’s important to note the recommendations to avoid sprays. Yes, they seem much more convenient to apply than cream-based sunscreens, but research shows they’re far less effective. According to EWG, concerns include an inhalation risk and the inability to provide a thick and even coating on skin. In 2011, the FDA also voiced concerns, saying the agency may ban spray sunscreen unless the companies that make the products can supply data proving spray sunscreens protect skin and are not hazardous. The FDA has yet to move on that, though.

EWG recommended sunscreens

EWG rates products on five factors:

  • Health hazards associated with listed ingredients (based on a review of nearly 60 standard industry, academic, government regulatory and toxicity databases).
  • UVB protection (using SPF rating as the indicator of effectiveness).
  • UVA protection (using a standard industry absorbance model).
  • Balance of UVA/UVB protection (using the ratio of UVA absorbance to SPF).
  • Sunscreen stability (how quickly an ingredient breaks down in the sun, using an in-house stability database compiled from published findings of industry and peer-reviewed stability studies).

EWG sunscreen recommendations are divided into three different categories: Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens (239 products meet their standards), Best Scoring Sunscreen Lotions for Kids (they recommend 19 different products), and Best Moisturizers with SPF. The approved brands appear alphabetically so it’s easy to find the brand you’re considering to see if it meets the criteria.

To make it even easier, the EWG’s Healthy Living app is updated with the 2017 information so you can easily check recommendations when you’re standing in the store aisle looking at the dozens of options.

Sunscreen is not the only precaution

There is no definitive proof that sunscreen prevents most cancers, and the fact that many people don’t use them correctly may contribute to their lack of effectiveness. But, they can, when used properly help block harmful rays, which is one of the factors that leads to skin cancer.

EWG recommends wearing clothes that cover your skin, finding or making shade when you’re outside, wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays, planning activities in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky, and checking the UV index in addition to using sunscreen to help avoid the harm that can come from sun exposure.

Apparently, Lots Of Sunscreen Brands Don’t Work At All

When your burned, bright red coworkers stagger into the office on Monday, you can probably guess what what went wrong. “Forgot your sunscreen?” you might ask, as they pitifully peel. But according to a new study in JAMA Dermatology, your hapless tomato of a colleague may have actually lathered on gallons of sunscreen, with SPFs up the wazoo—just, not the brands that actually work.

That’s because up to 40 percent of the top selling sunscreens on Amazon do not even meet the minimum criteria for UV protection under the guidelines of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the study finds. And to add insult to injury, the least expensive brands tend to work at least as well as household names—while some of the most expensive sunscreens on Amazon are in fact the least effective.

During the sweltering summer months, most of us at least give a nod to skin cancer by spraying on a convenience store can of sunscreen before we head out to the beach. But that doesn’t mean we know what we’re doing. Studies have shown that most people cannot, for the life of them, figure out how to read a sunscreen bottle and that SPFs may as well be Sanskrit for most Americans. Meanwhile, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

For confused consumers, terrified parents, and people who simply don’t want to burn, the American Academy of Dermatology has released simple guidelines for sunscreen: the lotion or spray should be water and sweat resistant, provide broad-spectrum protection (that is, protection against UVA and UVB rays), and boast an SPF between 30 and 50 (higher than SPF 50 is always a scam).

Unfortunately, many of the safest sunscreens on the market don’t have the sort brand name recognition that one might hope for. So a team of dermatologists took to Amazon in the hopes of identifying the most popular and affordable sunscreens, and then evaluating each of them for safety and efficacy. “You don’t want to wear a chalky, greasy, terrible-smelling product, even if your dermatologist recommends it,” said coauthor Dr. Steve Xu, dermatologist at Northwestern University, in a press statement. “This gave us insight into what consumers prefer, so it can guide our recommendations and be cost conscious.”

For the study, Xu and his team narrowed their data down to the 6,500 sunscreens on Amazon that have four or more stars and then specifically looked at the top one percent of these sunscreens with the highest ratings, leaving them with the 65 sunscreen brands that are most popular among consumers. They then analyzed each of the 65 brands to determine whether they conformed to AAD guidelines. Paradoxically, they found that 90 percent of the least expensive brands met AAD guidelines—while 40 percent of the more expensive brands did not.

They also found that, while the vast majority boasted broad spectrum coverage, only 62 percent were water-resistant and more than 10 percent had SPFs below 30. In fact, 30 percent of the sunscreens that did not meet AAD guidelines were disqualified based on lack of water resistance, alone. The authors suspect that this may be because many sunscreens are marketed as daily moisturizers, and consumers buying cosmetics tend to pay less attention to water-resistance. That many sunscreens are marketed as cosmetics, “may cause consumer confusion regarding what makes up an adequate sunscreen product,” the authors warn.

Xu and his colleagues recognize that consumers are confused about the safety and efficacy of their sunscreens, and advise fellow dermatologists—who have no interest in pushing a particular brand—to counsel patients about making healthy sunscreen choices. “Dermatologists should have a voice in consumer choices when it comes to skin health,” Xu says. “A voice that takes the patients’ best interests at heart, and is not influenced by marketing claims.”

Just In Time For This Weekend, EWG Releases The 2016 Guide to Sunscreens

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released its latest guide to sunscreens. The guide investigates more than 750 beach and sport sunscreens for how well they protect your skin and the overall safety of their ingredients.

This year’s report takes a closer look at sunscreens specifically made for babies and kids. According to the EWG, melanoma is on the rise in our country. It takes only a few blistering sunburns in childhood to double the chance a person will get skin cancer over a lifetime. Melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is characterized by mole-like cancerous growths.

I’m one of those people who had many blistering sunburns during childhood, often brought about on purpose because the burn eventually turned to tan. A good tan was a status symbol in my early teens. I’ve shared my skin cancer story before and urged everyone to have suspicious moles checked. The basel cell carcinoma on my chest that showed up about 30 years after my self-inflicted sunburns was most likely caused by a mix of genetics and sun exposure.

Because I know more about the sun’s damaging effects than my parents did and because of my experience with skin cancer, I’m vigilant about sunscreen when it comes to my sons.

I certainly wish I could go back and change they sunscreen use of my youth. The skin cancer that I mentioned above returned just a few months ago. What was a small, almost unnoticeable scar on my chest is now a two-inch long, very noticeable scar from the latest procedure to remove the cancer. I joke that I got into a dual with a pirate — and it certainly looks like a stab wound. Mostly, I’m grateful that there’s a good chance this latest procedure took care of the basel cell carcinoma for good. But, sometimes I’m very self-conscious about this scar, which might have been avoidable had I known then what I know now.

I’ve used the EWG’s sunscreen guide for several years now because I know all sunscreens are not created equal.

Three-fourths of the sunscreens the EWG tested were found to be lacking, either in effectiveness or because of the ingredients. Problematic ingredients like oxybenzone, a hormone disrupter, and retinal palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin, can be found in some sunscreens.

High SPF (sunburn protection factor) values can also give people a false sense of security. A high SPF is associated with greater protection from immediate burn and from future skin cancer risk, but this year’s report says “higher SPF ratings don’t necessarily offer great protection from other UV-related skin damage and may lead users to spend too much time in the sun.”

Dermatologists and skin cancer researchers now believe that sunscreens should not only protect from UVB rays — the ultraviolet short-wave rays that cause skin cancer — but they should also protect from UVA rays. Sunscreen manufacturers have stepped up in that area, and nearly every product tested contained an ingredient thought to filter UVA rays.

So, which are the best products, the ones that protect from both UVB and UVA rays while containing the least harmful ingredients? You’ll need to head to EWG’s easy-to-use interactive 10th Annual Guide to Sunscreens for that info, but I can tell you a bit more about what to expect.

Sunscreens are broken down into four categories.

  • Best beach and sport sunscreens
  • Best-scoring kids’ sunscreens
  • Best moisturizers with SPF
  • Worst-scoring kids sunscreens

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer for many of us. Before you stock up on sunscreen for the summer, take the time to look over the EWG guide and find safe and effective sun protection for you and your family. Your future self will thank you.

New Drinkable Sunscreen Claims to Quench Your Thirst While Protecting Your Skin

Have you ever been so thirsty while sunbathing at the beach that you thought of opening your bottle of sunscreen and taking a swig? Yeah, probably not. (In fact, doing so would be highly toxic and is something you should never attempt.)

But for those of you who have always wanted a sunscreen that can both protect your skin and quench your thirst, there’s now a product for that. It’s called UVO, a sunscreen that you can drink.

Hold the gag reflex: UVO is not your typical sunscreen, filled with inedible chemicals. Rather, its ingredients include a medley of fruit juices and vitamins that are perfectly safe to consume — perhaps even quite healthy. It’s basically an enhanced fruit drink. But UVO is not solely intended to be a substitute for your daily multivitamin; it’s supposed to offer protection from the sun’s UV rays. So can it actually work?

According to the product website, “UVO is the first liquid supplement that you drink to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.” Supposedly if you consume one 12-ounce bottle about 30 minutes before sun exposure, it will provide you with 3 to 5 hours of protection. The key to these claims are the ingredients, a smorgasbord of “vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants scientifically proven to protect the skin from the inside out.”

The company’s own clinical trials are the main source of proof cited for these claims. In those trials, 15 subjects were twice administered radiation with a UV emitting device, once without having consumed a bottle of UVO, and then a second time on a different area of skin approximately 1 hour after downing a bottle. According to their measurements, it took 40 percent more sun exposure to create a sunburn after people drank UVO.

It was a small trial, however, and not an independent one. And there is no SPF rating listed for the product. That’s not surprising, since this clinical trial would not be adequate for establishing such a rating.

The main thrust of the science behind how this product purportedly works are studies which show that some oral antioxidants can provide protection from the sun’s radiation. But even in these studies, the amount of SPF protection provided by the antioxidants is pretty minimal, maybe an SPF of 1 or 2 at most. That’s hardly a viable replacement for your topical sunscreen.

Dermatologist Emanual Maverakis, who spoke to CBS about UVO, was skeptical about the product’s effectiveness. “I would say the same thing that the Academy of Dermatology says. Oral supplements are not a replacement for your topical sunscreens,” he said.

It is also important to note that UVO is listed as a dietary supplement, and it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Even so, given that UVO’s list of ingredients is beneficial to one’s health in general, it couldn’t hurt to try it. While it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for sunscreen, it could perhaps have some marginal benefit, if not as protection from the sun, then as a source for nutrients and hydration.

If you’re interested, a bottle will put you short around $5.