This Article Has Been Medically Approved By

Dr. George H. Sanders

As we head into summer later this month, the question of what sunscreen to use is an important one. Most of us have our favorites, but is it possible that there may be some problems with what we are using? A recent Consumer Reports article (July of 2013, pp.10-11) brings up a number of concerns that I’d like to share with you:

• HOW EFFECTIVE? – Not all sunscreens that have an SPF rating of 30 or more protect well against UVB rays. Remember that ultraviolet light is the part of the sun’s rays that will damage your skin. There is UVB that causes sunburn and that this is what the SPF (Sun Protective Factor) rating measures. If you sunburn with no sunscreen in 20 minutes, an SPF 30 sunscreen will protect you from sunburn for 30 times that long, or 30 x 20 minutes = 10 hours. The other type of ultraviolet light is termed UVA. It does not sunburn you, but does penetrate deeper than UVB and causes you to tan as well as aging your skin. It’s important that your sunscreen provide protection against both.

Getting back to SPF ratings, the sunscreen testers found that Badger Unscented SPF 34 and All Terrain AquaSport SPF 30 did not live up to their SPF ratings, and that All Terrain was just fair against UVA rays.

• HOW SAFE? – Animal studies have raised some question about the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that are used in some sunscreens. These substances have been linked to reproductive and developmental effects in animals. All Terrain AquaSport SPF 30, Badger Unscented SPF 34, and Kiss My Face SPF 40 were found by Consumer Reports labs to contain nanoparticles.

Some sunscreens also contain retinol or retinyl palmitate. These substances are related to oral retinoids that can cause birth defects when taken by women. Although these oral medications are not exactly the same as those substances in sunscreens, pregnant women may wish to choose a sunscreen without retinol or retinyl palmitate.

Animal studies indicate that oxybenzone found in many sunscreens may interfere with hormones in the body. Spray sunscreens may also be flammable, so let them dry before going near an open flame.


1. Use a sunscreen of SPF of 40 or greater. Although SPF 30 was recommended in the past, the questions raised by the failure of some sunscreens to live up to their SPF rating prompt this new recommendation.
2. Sunscreens also don’t maintain their effectiveness forever. Write the date of purchase on the container and toss it after 2 years to be sure it’s effective.
3. Finally, don’t store sunscreen in a hot car – it may degrade faster. Also skiers, beware of a sunscreen once frozen. It may no longer be effective!
4. The top six tested and recommended sunscreens, in order of Consumer Reports‘ ranking are: Up & UP Sport SPF 50 from Target, Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50 from Walmart, Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50, Walgreen’s Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50, Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch SPF 30, and Coppertone Sport High Performance SPF 30.

Please feel free to comment on this blog post and also to contact my office for further information.

George Sanders, M.D.