Choosing a sunscreen that’s both safe and effective can be a real challenge. From misleading claims to questionable ingredients, it’s tough to even know where to start.
Here’s a few key tips will get you out of the store and into the sun in no time:
Avoid chemical additives. The top brands of sunscreen all have one thing in common: they are packed with a host of chemicals, many of which have been found to be harmful to humans.
The star of this lineup is oxybenzone, which can be found in nearly every mainstream sunscreen on the market today. Because this chemical penetrates skin, it can cause cause allergic reactions and has been found to disrupt human hormones.
Unfortunately, it appears that Americans are being exposed to oxybenzone at an alarming level. The CDC has detected oxybenzone in more than 96 percent of the American population and according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), studies have, “linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women; another found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.”
The best way to avoid this and other harmful additives is to choose a mineral based sunscreen.
Vitamin A and sunlight don’t mix. Retinyl Palmitate, a form of Vitamin A, is an ingredient found in nearly a fifth of all sunscreens available today. This vitamin has been found to combat skin aging, which explains its inclusion in these skin products.
However, as the EWG reports, “studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight.” Other studies have also shown that sunscreen and cosmetics containing Vitamin A may expose people to unsafe levels of the vitamin.
Besides retinyl palmitate, look out for this ingredient under other names including: retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol.
Question those super high SPF’s. Why? Because high SPF sunscreens can only provide the level of SPF claimed on the package under very specific conditions. The varying strength of the sun and the thickness of application to the skin can change a sunscreen from 100 SPF down to 40 or even 30 SPF.
This is especially concerning when it comes to those sky-high SPF claims on many kids sunscreens because they can provide parents with a false sense of security.
After several studies found that sunscreens with an SPF above 50 can not be guaranteed to actually offer that level of protection, the FDA recommended SPF strength stop at an advertised 50+, calling those that claimed higher numbers “inherently misleading”.
Most companies who manufacture sunscreen, however, have not adopted the change.
Look for sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection. Most sunscreens are aimed at blocking ultraviolet B rays because these are the ones causing sunburns and some forms of skin cancer. When you read the SPF level on a label, it’s usually referring to the UVB protection provided.
Less researched and yet equally important are ultraviolet A rays which, according to the EWG, can “penetrate deeper into the skin and are harder to block with sunscreen ingredients approved by the FDA for use in U.S. sunscreens.”
So, while high SPF sunscreens with poor UVA protection can do a good job of suppressing sunburn, it may be exposing the user to other, potentially more serious, types of sun damage.