It’s that time of year. The weather is getting nicer and people are spending more and more time outside. Memorial Day marked the official start of the summer, even though we technically have a few weeks to go. One consistent argument is the use of sunscreen.
Do you use it? If so, what kind? Do you put it just on your face? How about the kids? The list of questions goes on and on.
All sunscreens are not created equal nor are all sunscreens safe. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) produces a guide to sunscreen every year to help choose safer sunscreen products.
1. Avoid Spray & Loose Powder Sunscreens: Regardless of the ingredients, spray sunscreens pose serious inhalation risks and you can easily apply too little or miss a spot, leaving bare skin exposed to harmful rays. Loose powder sunscreens can end up in the lungs each time they’re applied. Stick to the old fashioned ‘squeeze out of the bottle and rub in’ kind.
2. Don’t be fooled by high SPFs: SPF (sun protection factor) only refers to protection from the sun’s UVB rays (these burn the skin) and not the sun’s UVA rays (the ones that penetrate deep into the skin, suppress the immune system, accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer). High-SPF products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, increasing the risk of skin damage. Avoid products labeled with anything higher than SPF 50+ and lower than 15. Reapply sunscreen often, regardless of SPF. Also, products that contain zinc oxide seem to offer the best for UVA protection. Titanium dioxide seems to be a close second.
3. Avoid Oxybenzone: Oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can also trigger allergic reactions. One study has linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women and another has found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.
4. Avoid Homosalate: Homosalate is a widely used chemical in sunscreens and skin care products with SPF. Homosalate is a potential endocrine disruptor and studies in cells suggest it may impact hormones. In addition to direct health concerns following homosalate exposure, the chemical may also enhance the absorption of pesticides in the body.
5. No Retinyl Palmitate: When used in a night cream, this form of vitamin A is supposed to have anti-aging effects. BUT on sun-exposed skin, retinyl palmitate may speed development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies.
6. No Sunscreen/Bug Repellant Combo Products: Studies indicate that combining sunscreens and repellents lead to increased skin absorption of the repellent ingredients. Keep this in mind since most sunscreen products have to be reapplied after a certain time. If you buy a combo product you are also constantly reapplying the repellant. Plus, bugs are typically not a problem during the hours when UV exposure peaks anyway.
7. No Sunscreen Towelletes: These products are so small that the question remains if there’s enough product in them to ensure adequate sun protection.
8. No Tanning Oils: Tanning oils are just a bad idea. They promote risky behavior, encouraging users seek out intense sunshine that results in skin damage and increased risk of developing skin cancer.
READ MORE ABOUT SUNSCREEN INGREDIENTS (updated 06/19/2020)
Confused now about what to buy? Don’t be. Below is a list of just some of EWG approved sunscreen products (at the original date of this post).
The products listed below have an EWG rating of 1 on a scale of 0-10 with regards to toxicity.
Natural Sun Sunscreen for Kids, Unscented, SPF 45
Natural Sun Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 26
Natural Sun Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 45
Elemental Herbs Sunscreen, Kids, SPF 33
Eco Formula, SPF 30
Eco Stick, SPF 30
Eco Tint Stick, SPF 30
All Natural Sport Face & Body Sun Stick, Unscented, SPF 30
All Natural Baby & Family Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 30
Sport Moisturizer, SPF 30
Tinted Mineral Moisturizer, Sheer, SPF 30
All-Season Face Stick Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 35
Sunscreen Cream, Unscented, SPF 30
Baby Sunscreen Cream, Chamomile & Calendula, SPF 30
Don’t see your favorite brand listed? Check to see how it stacks up against EWG’s criteria.