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September 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 22, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Many Sunscreens are Short on Protection

from the September, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

According to recent studies, you might be getting less than half the sunburn protection shown on sunscreen labels when you’re out on the dive boat.

Consumer Reports tested 19 sunscreens and found that some provide minimal protection against ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which can cause skin cancer and wrinkles. However, UVA is not considered in the sun-protection factor (SPF) number listed on sunscreen products. That number refers to protection against UVB radiation, a different wavelength that can also cause skin cancer and sunburns.

Consumer Reports’ top choice was Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch sunscreen with an SPF 45; it is water-resistant and tested “excellent,” scoring 86 out of 100 for protecting against both UVA and UVB. Runner-ups were Hawaiian Tropic’s Ozone Sport Grip SPF 30+ and 15 Plus All Day Waterproof, both waterproof and scoring 84 and 83 respectively. Forget Bull Frog, found in many dive shops -- it scored only 45, tied for 15th out of the 19. The Bull Frog Quik Gel Sport Spray SPF 36 scored “excellent” for UVB protection bit only “fair” for UVA protection.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigated 786 name-brand sunscreens and found that one of every eight high-SPF sunscreens don’t protect from UVA radiation. Its top-ranked choice was UV Natural Sport SPF 30+. Bull Frog scored better in this study – its 13 products all scored 7 out of 10. However, Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus SPF 30, a diver’s favorite, only scored 2.

The EWG says that only 17 percent of sunscreens on the market are both safe and effective in blocking UVA and UVB radiation. Only twelve percent of sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher protect from sunburn, while the rest break down quickly in the sun. Worse, half the sunscreens on the market have claims that are considered “unacceptable” or misleading under the FDA’s sunscreen safety standards.

In the meantime, choose a sunscreen with maximum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, preferably one labeled very water resistant or waterproof, and featuring an SPF of at least 30. And be sure to use enough. To get the labeled protection when wearing a swimsuit, you’ll need to use two to three tablespoons of sunscreen. Reapply it every two hours, as well as after every dive or snorkel

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