Chemical sunscreens getting a closer look

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SARASOTA. Fla. -- Sun lovers may have to read labels more carefully. Consumer Reports advises against spray-on sunscreen for children until the FDA completes a new study.

Many use sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays; we check for SPF and make sure there are certain ingredients. But now that skin cancer protection may come with a price of other health risks.

Mother of four Angie Hines uses protective clothing and products to keep her kids safe from the sun. “Most of the time, the Water Babies lotion; or sometimes the Badger Balm, which is an organic sunscreen product.”

But if she runs out, she says, she uses whatever's available, including sprays. “The Coppertone, and what other ones? I think that's really the main one that we use.”

Although she hasn’t heard of new health risks associated with spray sunscreens, she says she wouldn’t be surprised.

“Sunscreens, specifically spray sunscreens, are pushed out of the container by compressed gas.” Dr. Eva Berkes of the Hawthorne Clinic and Research Center, two commonly used ingredients are liquid petroleum and alcohol, which can be inhaled. “If you have a tendency towards asthma, any irritating gas can trigger it.”

The other major issue is nanoparticles, the physical stuff that blocks out sunrays, says Dr. Berkes, and they are unregulated. “Nanoparticles have been associated with developmental issues.”

So what is the safer choice? You want to see the sunscreen. “Non-nanoparticle sunscreens will be white. So if you find an invisible sunscreen, don’t use it.”

Jack Shoustal and Gayle Stauffer use sunscreen, both spray and lotion. “I have to because I'm fair skinned, and I actually put an SPF of 50 on and try to block as much as I can,” says Shoustal.

Both are surprised to learn of latest possible health risks linked to sunscreens, including endometriosis and development of tumors and lesions. “That’s amazing, because that’s why you’re putting it on, to try to prevent some of that stuff.”

Registered pharmacist Mike Pass says ingredients like Oxybenzone may cause damage and be toxic to the endocrine system. “The reproductive organs are definitely affected, in both men and women by the way.”

Retinyl palmitate is virtually non-existant says Pass, but most creams, lotions and sprays contain Oxybenzone.

Another concern is most sunscreens contain chemicals that act like BPA, and BPA is being withdrawn from the market because of its harmful effects.

For more information on ingredients and product ratings visit Environmental Working Group.org.