Navigating a Sunscreen Wonderland
Memorial Day has come and gone, which means summer is just around the corner. Whether you tan or don’t tan, whether you lounge on tropical beaches or prefer to spend your summer afternoons doing less sun dappled activities, sunscreen is a must. I’m sure you’ve all been dutifully applying sunscreen throughout the year. But just in case your SPF habits have been less than perfect, the upcoming sunnier months are a time to recommit yourself to a sunscreen routine.
The first step is the most important: Sunscreen shopping. We’re living in a sunscreen wonderland. Rising SPF numbers, UVB paired with UVA protection, self tanners, handy misting bottles; The convenience is magical. Unfortunately, the very product that’s supposed to protect us can put us at risk for toxic chemical exposures. While protecting your skin, don’t put your health in harm's way. Here are our top five tips for picking the best non-toxic sunscreen:
Not all vitamins are created equal: Vitamin A is the current darling of the skincare world due to its magical anti-aging properties, and it appears in 40% of sunscreens on the market. But when vitamin A is exposed to sunlight, the combination can speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions. Skip the Vitamin A in your next sunscreen purchase, and slow down aging with hats, shade, and frequent sunscreen application throughout the day.
Convenience is not always so convenient: Spray bottles of misting sunscreen may feel heaven sent on hectic summer days. Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a cost: Spray sunscreens put you at risk for inhaling sunscreen particles. To avoid inhalation, don’t apply spray sunscreen directly on your skin. Instead, spray your hands with the sunscreen and apply it as you would a traditional sunscreen lotion.
Popular powdered mineral sunscreens can also put you at risk of inhaling nano- or micro-sized zinc titanium. Luckily, if you’re a fan of mineral based sunscreen, there are more and more mineral based lotions on the market. For recommendations, or to check out your current sunscreen, visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Sunscreen database or the Skin Deep database.
Baby is not always best: It’s common sense that products specifically formulated for babies would be the safest options for sensitive skin. Which shows just how nonsensical, and dangerous, the cosmetics industry can be: Baby sunscreen options from many of the leading sunscreen companies appeared on EWG’s sunscreen hall of shame. Babies (and parents!) need UVB and UVA protection to adequately shelter their skin from damage and the possibility of skin cancer later in life. One of the sunscreens even contained oxybenzone, a potential hormone disruptor which is not recommended for “large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time.”
It’s a numbers game: Bigger isn’t better when it comes to SPF numbers. Though many sunscreens now boast SPF numbers in the 50s and higher, those high numbers are not guaranteed to be more effective. In fact, the FDA has said that these numbers are misleading. Stick with a UVA and UVB protecting, 30+ SPF, and make sure to reapply regularly throughout the day.
Do your homework: School may be out soon, but summer sunscreen shopping requires a bit of homework. Look up your sunscreens on the EWG sunscreen database or the Skin Deep database to make sure you’re making the safest selections. Also remember these two key chemicals to avoid as you shop: Oxybenzone and Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate).
- Healthy Child, Healthy World, “New Study Finds Only 8 Percent of Sunscreens are Safe and Effective”: http://healthychild.org/blog/comments/new_study_finds_only_8_percent_of_sunscreens_are_safe_and_effective/
- Healthy Child, Healthy World “Understanding Sunscreen: Micronization and Nanoparticles”: http://healthychild.org/blog/comments/understanding_sunscreen_micronization_and_nanoparticles
- Breast Cancer Fund “Sunscreens (UV Filters)”: http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/chemicals-glossary/sunscreens-uv-filters.htm