New advice for pregnant women when choosing sunscreens

Consumer Reports News: May 24, 2011 06:38 AM

Everyone should use sunscreen when heading out to the sun. But our new sunscreen Ratings say that pregnant women might want to choose ones that don’t contain retinyl palmitate, an ingredient that could possibly increase the risk of birth defects.

That ingredient is a topical form of vitamin A that the skin converts to retinoids. And those compounds, which are also found in certain acne medications, have been linked to an increased risk of birth defects. When checking labels, note that the ingredient is sometimes spelled retinol palmitate and has several synonyms, including vitamin A palmitate and retinol hexadecanoate. Products in our Ratings that include the ingredient are noted with a footnote.

Almost every sunscreen we tested contains some chemical that has been associated with adverse health effects in animal studies. That includes oxybenzone, which might interfere with hormones in the body, and nano-sized ingredients, which are potentially linked to reproductive and developmental problems.

Bottom line: Despite those concerns, our experts say that the proven benefits of sunscreen outweigh any potential harm from the ingredients. And our recent tests of 22 sunscreens found nine that will keep you from sizzling in the sun this summer, including three that cost less than $1 per ounce. In addition, our trained sensory panelists evaluated how the products smelled and felt after being sprayed on or rubbed in.

Remember that sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 30 should just be one part of your protection plan, along with checking your local UV index, especially for people who are at higher risk for skin cancer, and avoiding midday sun on exposed skin during high UV-index days. When outside, wear a hat with a brim of at least 4 inches, sunglasses, and tightly woven clothing like a long-sleeved beach cover-up. It’s probably not a bad idea to take shower with soap after a day wearing sunscreen, too.

Nicole Sarrubbo

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