Have you ever walked into the aisle where they stock the sunscreen and thought, OMG, where do I begin? Between the competing brightly coloured labels, touted claims of high SPF numbers, a wide array of prices, and claims of being “natural” and “safe,” it can be a challenge to choose the best sunscreen for you and your family.
Relax. The Environmental Working Group, which evaluates a wide spectrum of consumer products, has done its homework and conducted a thorough evaluation of 750 sunscreens commonly found in North America. A disturbing finding, however, is that three-fourths of the products the reviewers looked at provided either inferior protection or potentially harmful ingredients.
That makes it even more important that you carefully evaluate the available sunscreens, their ingredients, and their claims before you make a purchase. This is especially critical for young children, who are more vulnerable to sun damage. According to Curt DellaValle, an EWG senior scientist and cancer researcher, “Only a few blistering sunburns in childhood can double the chance a person will develop skin cancer over a lifetime.”
So prepare to protect your children and yourself! Here are some tips, offered by the Environmental Working Group, to help you make wise, informed selections. For additional assistance, the Canadian Dermatology Association provides a list of sunscreens and products that contain sunscreens and indicates which ones are good for infants and children, sensitive skin, and sports.
Here are some tips to help you make an informed purchase of sunscreen and use it properly.
Skip super SPFs. Sunscreens with an SPF of 50 or higher don’t provide much in the way of extra protection. Don’t waste your money on such products. You also may be lulled into believing you can stay in the sun longer and not reapply your sunscreen if you use products with high SPFs.
Nix the sprays. It is more difficult to adequately protect your skin when using sprays. You and your kids are also likely to inhale the mist while applying it.
Stay away from vitamin A (retinyl palmitate). This substance has been associated with the development of lesions and tumours on skin that has been exposed to sunlight. Avoid products that contain this ingredient.
Avoid avobenzone and oxybenzone. These two chemicals are similar in that they both absorb the sun’s rays and are found in most sunscreen products. Oxybenzone is more toxic than its cousin, yet both are associated with cell damage, hormone disruption, and allergies.
Frown on fragrances. Exposure to synthetic fragrances has been associated with allergies, birth defects, cancer, and nervous system problems. More than likely you will see these nefarious ingredients listed simply as “artificial fragrances” on the label.
Pass on the parabens. The 18 different varieties of these preservatives are easy to spot on the ingredient panels because all of them contain the word “paraben” in their names. Like avobenzone and oxybenzone, they can throw your hormones into chaos. Parabens have been linked to asthma, allergies, breast cancer, infertility, obesity, and benign tumours.
Reapply often. Ingredients in sunscreen can deteriorate and become uneffective or the product can be rubbed or washed off, especially if you are going in and out of the water.
Do look for zinc oxide. This ingredient has been shown to be safe and can effectively protect the skin from ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation.
Go organic. Choose sunscreen products that are certified organic and contain only natural ingredients. In addition to zinc oxide, other safe and effective ingredients include beeswax, tea tree oil, shea butter, and coconut oil. These substances block the sun’s rays and don’t alter the body’s hormones or chemicals in any way.
Written by Deborah Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell is passionate about personal health and the well-being of animals and the planet. She has authored, coauthored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, contributes regularly to several websites, and shares information on physical, emotional, and spiritual health on her blog, deborahmitchellbooks.com.
Canadian Dermatology Association. Sunscreen and other products containing sunscreen. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
Environmental Working Group. EWG’s sunscreen guide. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
Environmental Working Group. EWG releases 2016 guide to sunscreens. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
Global Healing Center. 5 dangerous chemicals in sunscreen. Retrieved March 12, 2017.