With the recent release of the 2012 Sunscreen Guide from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), you might be confused as to how to choose the right sunscreen and whether or not the bottle you own now is safe and effective. Buying sunscreen shouldn't cause you to break out in a cold sweat, so here are a few simple yet important things to look for when it comes to sunscreen.
The number on your bottle stands for sun protection factor, and believe it or not, a higher number doesn't equal more protection. The EWG recommends purchasing sunscreens with SPFs higher than 15 but no greater than 50. Studies show that sunscreens with an SPF higher than 50 don't offer greater protection, and many doctors argue that a higher number makes many people think a sunscreen lasts longer than one with a lower SPF, causing them to reapply less often, so they're more at risk for burns.
UVB rays are responsible for burning as well as tanning your skin and are the main culprit responsible for skin cancer. And while UVA rays won't cause a sunburn, they penetrate your skin more deeply, leading to signs of aging including wrinkles, saggy and leathery skin, and sun spots. It's important to protect yourself from both types of UV rays, so look for bottles that say "broad spectrum" or "broad spectrum UVA/UVB."
If your sunshiny adventures include water or sweating a lot, definitely choose a sunscreen that's water-resistant. Know that these aren't waterproof — they'll only protect you about 40 to 80 minutes in the water, so you'll need to reapply each time you take a dip.
Keep reading to learn which chemicals to avoid and to see a list of the safest, most effective sunscreens.
Chemicals to Avoid
- Oxybenzone: Although it does a great job of absorbing ultraviolet rays, some studies show that it can be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. The EWG and toxicology experts believe this can disrupt hormones, damage cells, and potentially lead to skin cancer.
- Retinyl palmitate: Animal studies show this type of vitamin A may increase the risk of skin cancer when used on sun-exposed skin. And since the EWG says retinyl palmitate doesn't really increase the effectiveness of sunscreen, it's a good idea to avoid it.
- Parabens: The most widely used preservative in cosmetic products, parabens are used to protect against microbial growth. Parabens can act similarly to estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers, and even though this chemical has been found in breast tumors, the FDA has yet to link it as a contributing factor to cancer. Since the jury is still out on how parabens affect the body, it's best to be on the safe side and avoid them.
What you really want to know now is which sunscreens should you buy? Here are four safe and effective recommendations that also score highest on the EWG scale of best sunscreens:
- Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient SPF 30 Fragrance Free Sunblock (4 oz., $11)
— EWG score of 2
- Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Sunscreen With Hydresia SPF 40 (3 oz., $17)
— EWG score of 1
- Jason Natural Cosmetics Pure Natural Sun: Mineral Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 (4 oz., $12)
— EWG score of 2
- Aubrey's Organics Natural Sun Green Tea Sunscreen SPF 30+ (4 oz., $12)
— EWG score of 1
While spray-on sunscreens may seem easier to apply, especially hard-to-reach areas like your back, they also don't offer the coverage lotions do since it's difficult to see where and how much you've applied. Sprays and powdered sunscreens also pose the risk of inhalation. Skip the sprays and lube up with about a shot-glass size of sunscreen lotion. Apply 30 minutes before heading out in the sun, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.