Many of you are just back from the beach for Spring Break. You have an entire spring of sports and summer at the pool ahead of you slathering sunscreen on you and your family. But what sunscreens are you planning on using? That’s what we would like you to think about. What is in your sunscreen? We ask that you consider several things in selecting products. First of all, how effective are the sun blocking ingredient in your sunscreen? Well, the most effective and least harmful sun blocking ingredients are the mineral or physical blockers titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They block most of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays – remember that the term SPF only refers to UVB rays so you need to be careful to look for ingredients that block damaging UVA rays as well. Look for a sunscreen that says “broad spectrum”. Secondly, how harmful are the ingredients in the sunscreen? You should try to avoid the chemical sun blockers like oxybenzone as they have cancer causing agents and may act as hormone disruptors. Does the sunscreen contain parabens? Parabens are known cancer-causing agents and should be avoided whenever possible. Look for words like ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben on the ingredient list.
There are several rules of thumb when choosing a product. Just because a product says it’s for sensitive skin or is a baby formula does not mean that it may not still be harmful. We looked up Coppertone Water Babies Quick Cover lotion with SPF 50 and according to the Environmental Working Group the safety rating was 7 out of 10, with 10 being the worst. It contained the chemical blocker oxybenzone which should be avoided especially on children. Furthermore, just because an SPF has a higher number does not mean it is better or safer for you. The EWG says that SPFs higher than 50 don’t typically give you significantly higher sun protection and are usually loaded with sun blocking chemicals which can cause tissue damage and hormone disruption. Antioxidants added to the sunscreen don’t necessarily mean the sunscreen is better; data from an FDA study suggests that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. Most importantly, spray sunscreens are dangerous because of the inhalation of nano-sized particles. The cans are typically loaded with chemicals and are usually rated poorly for safety.
In a nutshell, according to the Environmental Working Group, among the sun blocking ingredients with the lowest risk (but not necessarily broad spectrum protection) are avobenzone, mexoryl SX, and octisalate. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are broad-spectrum, are of medium risk but since they do not seem to get absorbed into the bloodstream the EWG considers them relatively safe. Oxybenzone and 4-MBC on the other hand are considered high risk and easily absorbable into the skin. They should not be used on children due to their known allergic reactions and hormone disruption properties. Always apply more sunscreen than you think you need. Studies show that people often use 1/5 the needed amount to provide the indicated sun protection. Please keep these tips in mind when looking for sunscreens throughout summer. Some of our favorites are Elta MD’s facial sunscreens (the ones with moisturizer apply well under makeup) and many of which are paraben-free, and Jason Naturals Sunbrellas 30. Kiss My Face Face Factor 30 rates well, as do most Jason Natural, Badger, Nature’s Gate and Alba Botanica sunblocks. We also like Aveda and Tarte tinted moisturizers with SPF since they are free of parabens, phthalates and petrochemicals. For a pharmacy run, we found Johnson and Johnson baby sunscreen lotion SPF 40 rated as one of EWG’s best rated sunscreens! We encourage you to look up your favorite products on the Environmental Working Group’s website to be sure they are safe and provide broad-spectrum protection: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com. The EWG’s sunscreen guide is also extremely helpful: http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/