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A health watchdog group is shining a light on sunscreens marketed to babies and children.
The Environmental Working Group, a consumer watchdog group, released its annual sunscreen guide Tuesday, testing 650 beach and sport sunscreens.
Some of the findings were sobering: The researchers stress that there is no sunscreen that provides fool-proof protection from skin cancer and sun damage.
Best way to protect your skin
"What we find that sunscreen shouldn't be your first line of defense from the sun," EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder told TODAY. "Any layer of clothing you're going to wear is going to provide much better protection."
Part of the problem, said Lunder, is that sunbathers tend to misuse and over-rely on the sunscreen. "One of the major things that we've concluded as more than a decade of research is that people apply about one quarter of the amount needed to get the SPF on the bottle. Basically, a user would need to put two coats of the sunscreen and replenish it every two hours or after each time in the water to maintain the advertised level of protection."
While EWG argues against sunscreens containing Vitamin A additives such as retinyl palminate — it says they speed the development of skin tumors and lesions, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Dermatology note that no studies link the ingredient to skin cancer in humans.
European products also tend to have better UVA protection than ones sold on this side of the Atlantic because of stricter government standards regarding the ingredients, the group reported.
Lunder noted that children can use adult sunscreens. There is little difference in the ingredients between the adult and kid versions of most brands, although some in the latter category are less irritating on the skin or better smelling to kid's noses. Sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months of age: For babies under six months, parents should keep them covered up and out of the sun.
Best sunscreens for babies and kids
Further filtering the sunscreens that passed the group's stringent standards, the EWG provided a list of its top 23 products for kids. Those top picks are:
Adorable Baby Sunscreen, SPF 30+
All Good Kid's Sunscreen, SPF 30
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Lotion Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin, SPF 50,
Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream, Tangerine & Vanilla, SPF 30
Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, Baby, SPF 50
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Baby, SPF 30+
BurnOut Kids Sunscreen, SPF 35
California Baby Calendula Sunscreen, SPF 30+
COOLA Suncare Baby Mineral Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50
Equate Baby Zinc Sunscreen Mineral Lotion, SPF 50
Goddess Garden Organics Kids Sport Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
Hawaiian Sol Sol Kid Kare, SPF 50
Kiss My Face Organics Kids Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 (This sunscreen also made our list of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin)
MDSolarSciences KidCreme Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 40
Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 50
Nurture My Body Baby Organic Sunscreen, SPF 32
Sunology Mineral Sunscreen, Kids, SPF 50
thinkbaby Sunscreen, SPF 50+
thinksport Kids Sunscreen, SPF 50+
Tom's of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
TruBaby Water & Play Sunscreen, SPF 30+
TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30
Waxhead Sun Defense Baby Zinc Oxide Sunscreen, SPF 35
The release of the report comes on the same day that the Food and Drug Administration announced that sunscreen-in-a-pill supplements that have hit the market do not work and are essentially scams.
“We’ve found products purporting to provide protection from the sun that aren’t delivering the advertised benefits. Instead they’re misleading consumers, and putting people at risk,” Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in his statement on Tuesday.
Choosing the right protection is critical as the Americans head into beach season. The EWG recommends ignoring products that advertise SPF ratings of higher than 50, saying their use can actually backfire. "SPF values of 75, 80, or 100 lull Americans into thinking their skin is fully protected from the sun’s harmful rays for extended periods of time,” said EWG senior scientist David Andrews in a statement. “People tend to misuse these high SPF products, spending more time in the sun without reapplying, putting them and their families at greater risk of UV damage.”
It's key to remember that most sunscreens are better at blocking UVB rays that are responsible for sunburns, Lunder said, but not as good at fending off UVA rays which penetrate deeper into the skin and are responsible for skin aging and melanoma.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that rates of new melanoma cases among both men and women have been climbing by 1.7 and 1.4 percent per year, respectively, since 2003.