Let's start with a confession: I'm terrified of the sun.
As a ghostly pale white guy, every time I step outside when the sun looks brighter than a 100-watt light bulb, I end up with second-degree sunburn that forces me to bathe in aloe vera and peel off notebook paper-size sheets of dead skin.
To make matters worse, I heard from very credible experts trying to sell me skin care products on television that skin cancer is apparently as common as hangnails and infinitely more deadly. Given my luck, of the more than 1 million people diagnosed with skin cancer each year, I'm bound to be the one who gets from the first sunburn. I'll probably be the one who gets the rare, fast-growing, untreatable type that causes intense, recurring sunburn that slowly leads to my death, too.
So naturally, because of my paranoid aversion to the sun, my best friend during the summer is sunscreen.
That miracle potion keeps my skin milky white, and better yet, it comes with a convenient label telling me how strongly it will defend my fragile skin against our fiery sphere of pain. This way, all I have to do is grab the Coopertone SPF 6,000, lather up and rest easy. There's no way I'll get cancer if I'm wearing a name-brand sunscreen with so much radiation protection that I could survive a nuclear fallout along with the cockroaches.
Given my dependence on the stuff, imagine how upset I was when I found out that most sunscreens don't really do all that much. Or at least that was the conclusion reached by the Environmental Working Group in a study released last week.
After investigating almost 1,000 different sunscreens, the research organization found that 85 percent of sunscreens with an SPF above 15 offer inadequate protection from the sun. Of those, the worst offenders turned out to be from the Big Three of sunscreen makers: Coopertone, Neutrogena and Banana Boat. Only one out of the 144 products from these three companies met the minimal standards that the EWG set for safety and effectiveness.
One of the biggest problems noted in the study was inadequate protection against UVA radiation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only requires that sunscreens protect against UVB radiation, the type that causes sunburn and is directly linked to skin cancer. Similarly, the ubiquitous SPF rating is based only on a product's UVB protection.