Summer, it’s upon us! Kids are done with school, pools are opening up, you can smell the barbeques cooking, and the days are getting longer and hotter! And with the summer heat comes the summer sun. So how do you decide what kind of sunscreen is the right one? Maybe you’ve never given it much thought. I did a little research, actually, the Environmental Working Group (an organization dedicated to educating and empowering consumers to make safer and more informed decisions about the products they buy) did the research on the best sunscreens to use. Here are their tips for finding the best sunscreen and a little information about sunscreen that you might not have known!
Even with the use of sunscreen, unfortunately, the rate of melanoma diagnosis is increasing. The consensus among scientists is that sunscreens alone cannot reverse this trend. Yet a good sunscreen can play a role in preventing sunburns that are a major risk factor for melanoma – provided you use it correctly. Sunscreens using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to rate well in the EWG analysis: They are stable in sunlight, offer a good balance between protection from the two types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) and don’t often contain potentially harmful additives. However, consumers often select products based on their SPF, or sunburn protection factor, and mistakenly assume that bigger numbers are better.High-SPF products tempt people to apply too little sunscreen and stay in the sun too long.In reality, higher SPF ratings don’t necessarily offer greater protection from other UV-related skin damage and may lead users to spend too much time in the sun.Over the past decade dermatologists and skin cancer researchers have concluded that good sunscreens should not only guard against sunburn, primarily caused by UVB rays, but also protect people from lower-energy UVA rays.
So what’s all this talk about UVA and UVB rays? While higher-energy UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburns and pre-cancerous DNA mutations, lower-energy UVA rays cause more subtle damage. They penetrate deeper into skin tissue and are most responsible for generating free radicals that can damage DNA and skin cells, promote skin aging, and cause skin cancer. Because Ultraviolet A rays penetrate deeper they are harder to block with the sunscreen ingredients approved by the FDA for use in U.S. sunscreens. American sunscreens can reduce these damages, but not as effectively as they prevent sunburn.People can run into problems if they pick a sunscreen with poor UVA protection, apply too little or reapply it infrequently. Sunscreen companies commonly add SPF boosters that inhibit sunburn but may not protect from other damages. A sunscreen lotion’s SPF rating has little to do with the product’s ability to shield the skin from UVA rays. As a result of the FDA’s restrictions on ingredients and concentrations, U.S. sunscreens (as opposed to European sunscreens) offer far less protection against UVA than UVB, particularly those products with the highest SPF. Because UVA and UVB protection do not harmonize, high-SPF products suppress sunburn much more effectively than other types of sun damage. The sunscreen industry also adds a form of vitamin A to some of its sunscreens. Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging, but 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.
With all the bad news about sunscreen it seems that there’s not much hope. But don’t give up! The EWG did the work and found which sunscreens are the best. And here’s how they did it – in the analysis of product effectiveness, the EWG weighed four contributing factors:
- UVB protection
- UVA protection
- UVA/UVB balance
- Stability of active ingredient combinations, considering both the potential for active ingredient molecules to break down in sunlight, react with other ingredients or otherwise transform into compounds less effective at filtering UV radiation.
So here are just a few sunscreens that the EWG recommends based on their analysis that I have seen at stores where I shop frequently (Target, Raisin Rack, other health food stores, I’m sure the new Earth Fare has a few of these), but you can also click here to see their webpage with a whole list!
- The Honest Company Honest Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+
- JASON Sun Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
- Alba Botanic Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen, Sport, SPF 45
- Kiss My Face Organics Face and Body Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
And if you’re looking for more in depth information on the EWG’s guidelines for sunscreen check out their webpage here.
Lastly, don’t just rely on sunscreen to protect you from the sun! Did you know that putting on sunscreen should be a last resort? Why, you ask? Because there are ways to avoid too much sun in the first place. A few things you can do to prevent too much sun exposure is to:
Wear clothes: Shirts, hats, shorts and pants shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays, reducing risk by 27%.
Plan around the sun: Go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.
Find shade – or make it: Picnic under a tree or take a canopy to the beach. Keep infants in the shade.
Don’t get burned: Red, sore, blistered skin means you’ve gotten far too much sun.
Sunglasses are essential: Not just a fashion accessory, sunglasses protect your eyes from UV radiation.
Check UV Index: The UV Index provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities in ways that prevent sun overexposure.