How To Find Safe & Effective Sunscreen
Find the best sunscreen with the help of Environmental Working Group's Guide to Sunscreen.
Sometimes I find the yearly search for safe and effective sunscreen a little overwhelming. With dozens of brands, SPF levels, claims and application methods to choose from, I’d just stare at the drugstore shelf if it wasn’t for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) annual guide to sunscreen.
Each year EWG rates hundreds of sport and beach sunscreens based on their effectiveness (do they provide the UVA and UVB protection that they claim), and toxicity. (The active ingredients in most sunscreen seeps through the skin and into our bodies, and that can cause health issues, especially in children.)
EWG gives each brand formulation a green, yellow or red rating. The least toxic, most effective brands receive a green rating, the most toxic receive a red rating and those in the middle are rated yellow.
While the organization’s sunscreen ratings are popular and very helpful, EWG says sunscreen should be our last resort when it comes to sun safety. Covering up, staying in the shade, and staying out of the sun during the peak hours of 10-4 are the best ways to stay safe in the sun.
But winter is long and staying out of the sun on a lovely summer weekend is the last thing many of us want to be doing.
To enjoy the outdoors during summer, EWG offers the following tips for staying safe in the sun:
- Cover up. Wide-brim hats, long sleeve shirts, SPF shirts, light pants and long summer skirts are all easier slip on than taking the time to properly apply sunscreen.
- Wear sunglasses.
- Avoid sunscreen with an SFP value higher than 50. If they’re applied properly, and reapplied, sunscreen with SPF ratings between 30 and 50 will offer acceptable sunburn protection. The problem with SPF values over 50 is that they imply that they provide better protection and for longer but really the difference is negligible. As a result those who use higher SPF products are given a false sense of security and are more likely to spend a longer time in the sun than those who use lower SPF products. High SPF products help protect you from UVB rays (those that cause burns), but are much less effective against UVA rays, which cause deeper skin damage and can lead to skin cancer.
- Avoid sunscreen that includes vitamin A (retinyl palmitate). Numerous studies have shown that it reacts with sunlight and may actually speed the development of skin cancer.
- Apply enough sunscreen to get good coverage and reapply according to instructions.
- Choose lotions instead of sprays since they offer better coverage and inhalation of spray sunscreen is a danger, especially for children.
Sunscreen with the best rating is easy to source online but there are some drugstore brands that get a reasonable rating: Coppertone Oil Free, Pure and Simple and Sensitive Skin brands as well as Coppertone Kids, and Aveeno Baby Face Stick (other Aveeno Baby products get a high toxicity rating).
To view the full guide, search for the best-rated brands and to search the ratings of common brands visit www.ewg.org/sunscreen