, Gloucester, MA


April 27, 2012

Senior Lookout: The bright and sunny sides of today's sunscreen

New Englanders are usually very grateful for the coming of daylight saving time, and the opportunity to spend more time outdoors.

Even after a mild winter, it's good to feel the warmth of the sun as we start our gardening, do some spring cleaning around the yard, or just take a walk with a friend. But, as that sun gets higher and brighter with the lengthening days of summer, it's time to think about protecting our skin from the damaging rays that can bring more than just warmth to our bodies.

Sunscreen was invented in the 1930s, didn't become popular until the 1960s and it wasn't until the '80s that Coppertone developed a screen that protected against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays. Early creams had low sun protection factors (SPF), but the SPF factor on some sunscreens now is 45, as opposed to an SPF of 2 for some of the first.

The chemical composition of sunscreens is not without controversy, however. In early products, the active ingredient was PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid); due to concerns about allergic reactions, it's rarely used in sunscreen today. The major active ingredients in many sunscreen products now are: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and oxybenzone.

According to the Environmental Working Group's rating scale, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide pose less risk than oxybenzone, but oxybenzone is used in many more sunscreen products.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, more than 12,500 products, from moisturizer to shampoo contain 80 percent of the so-called "dirty dozen" of chemicals, substances which can be absorbed by the body and stored in internal organs, some of which are suspected of causing harm.

It's not only active ingredients that are on the list. Some inactive ingredients also make the "dirty dozen." Coppertone's Sport Ultra Sweatproof Sunscreen, SPF 30, for example, contains at least three such inactive ingredients.

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