What to look for when choosing sunscreen

Experts recommend wearing sunscreen all day long, especially during summer

Experts on sunscreen dos and don'ts
Experts on sunscreen dos and don'ts

Experts suggest wearing sunscreen all day long, especially in the summer -- but with so many brands and types of sunscreen to choose from, picking the right one can be overwhelming.

Dermatologist Dr. Steven Grekin, founder of the Grekin Skin Institute, says the the ingredients in the sunscreen are the most important factor to consider.

The doctor says he is concerned about a recent report from Valisure, an online pharmacy and lab, that found a chemical called benzene in 78 sunscreen and after-sun care products.

Benzene is known to cause cancer.

“What I was most concerned about was, is this going to derail people from using sunscreen? And the issue is, this is a contaminant in manufacturing, not a negative about sunscreen,” Grekin said.

More: Why it’s so important to protect children from sunburns

Benzene is not an ingredient in sunscreen. Valisure has a citizen petition into the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall 40 of the products because they contain higher levels of benzene.

While the FDA reviews that petition, there is no question that excess sun exposure causes skin cancer. To reduce the risk, Grekin wants you to make smart choices about your sunscreen.

Read: Survey finds many adults lack basic sun safety knowledge

First, be sure to wear sunscreen every single day. Grekin recommends lotions over sprays.

“I think that spray-on sunscreens sell the convenience, but I really don’t think we’re very efficient at it,” Grekin said. “Anybody that’s ever tried to spray paint something knows that when we’re spraying with the can, we’re missing certain areas. The uniformity of coverage is not great. When you rub on a cream or a lotion, you absolutely see where it is, so you know you’re covering all of the areas.”

Grekin also recommends purchasing and using a sunscreen that has physical blocking agents in it.

“For me, it’s not about the brand, it’s about the ingredients,” Grekin said. “It’s zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, these are physical blocks.

“Chemical sunscreens try to absorb the rays and not allow them to get into your skin. I don’t want the rays even to penetrate. I don’t want any absorption, I want blockage. So I want titanium and zinc oxide,” he said.

Experts urge people to use a sunscreen with a 30 SPF or higher.

Be sure to check the expiration dates on your sunscreen. Don’t use sunscreen that has expired.

Grekin says to make sure you’re putting enough sunscreen on each time you apply it.

“Remember: To put (sunscreen) on a normal-sized human being, you need a shot glass full of sunscreen,” he said.

Click here to see Valisure’s report on benzene in sunscreen.

Help Me Hank reached out to the FDA regarding the report and received the following statement:

“The FDA takes seriously any safety concerns raised about products we regulate, including sunscreen. While the agency evaluates the submitted citizen petition, we will continue to monitor the sunscreen marketplace and manufacturing efforts to help ensure the availability of safe sunscreens for U.S. consumers.

“The agency reminds manufacturers, distributors, re-packagers and importers they are responsible for the quality of their products and urges manufacturers to test their ingredients to ensure they meet specifications and are free from harmful contamination.

“The FDA is reviewing the citizen petition, and generally we do not comment on pending petitions. When we respond to the petition, we will respond directly to the petitioner and post the response in the designated agency docket for the petition (available on www.regulations.gov).”

Food and Drug Administration

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About the Author:

Hank Winchester is Local 4's Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV's "Help Me Hank" Consumer Unit. He works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off metro Detroiters.