It's hard enough to remember to put on sunscreen when you leave the house, but now you also need to make sure your sunscreen is safe to use. The Environmental Working Group has just released its 2012 Sunscreen Guide, and in order to make the list, a sunscreen must be free of oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, not have an SPF above 50, and must be broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays).
What's wrong with 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 Environmental Working Group and toxicology experts believe this can disrupt hormones, damage cells, and potentially lead to skin cancer. Other experts disagree, like the American Academy of Dermatology, and oxybenzone has been FDA-approved since 1978 for use in children older than 6 months.
Keep reading to find out what else you need to consider when buying sunscreen, and for a list of the safest sunscreens on the market.
Retinyl palmitate is another chemical to be leery of since animal studies show that this type of vitamin A may increase the risk of skin cancer when used on sun-exposed skin. The Environmental Working Group says retinyl palmitate doesn't really increase the effectiveness of sunscreen, so it's a good idea to avoid.
Another thing to check on your bottle's label is to make sure it clearly states "broad spectrum," to ensure it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. SPF is also important, but the higher the number doesn't necessarily mean better protection. The Environmental Working Group 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.
So what's a consumer to do? All it takes is a little label reading to find a sunscreen that is both effective and free of these chemicals. You can go to the website, type in the brand of sunscreen you normally use and see how it stacks up, or check their full list of the top safest sunscreens. Here are some it recommends:
- Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunblock, Fragrance Free, SPF 30
- Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Green Tea Sunscreen, SPF 30+
- Badger Lightly Scented Lavender Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
- Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Sunscreen with Hydresia, SPF 40
- Nature's Gate Aqua Block Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
Using these properly is key to protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. Use at least two ounces (size of a shot glass) and reapply every two hours or after you've been sweating or swimming.