I may have jumped the gun on the sunscreen discussion since it’s only March, but believe it or not, I managed to get sunburned this weekend. It’s supposed to reach high 70s this weekend again, so we must be ready.
The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) fifth annual sunscreen guide rated 292 brands and over 1,700 sunscreen products. Why do we need EWG’s advice? Because there are so many competing claims about what kind of sunscreen to use, how much SPF it should have, what chemicals to avoid and the trade-off between vitamin D and sun protection.
You can find the good, the bad, and the ugly sunscreens here, or search your brand in the database.
Sunscreen is a complicated topic. There are information gaps, conflicting studies and opinions, as well lack of guidance from the FDA. Dermatologists urge wearing sunscreen all year round to prevent skin cancer, while many doctors say that 10 – 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a few times a week is a good way to meet the need for vitamin D. Even more confusing is how much SPF we actually need – store shelves are filled with SPF 50, 70 and even 100+.
Meanwhile, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all cancer cases. According to EWG, skin cancer is five times more prevalent in the U.S. population than breast or prostate cancers.
5 Tips for Picking Sunscreen
Choose a broad spectrum formula – a broad spectrum formula shields both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays penetrate the outer skin layer, and are the primary cause of sunburns and non-melanoma skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin accelerate aging, and cause a different type of DNA damage. Products that contain avobenzone, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide, should be effective against the entire UVA spectrum.
Avoid vitamin A and oxybenzone – these hormone disruptors are potentially carcinogenic on skin exposed to sunlight. Retinyl palmitate is a derivative of vitamin A and a popular anti-oxidant that prevents wrinkles. Although vitamin A is beneficial in lotions and night creams used indoors, FDA recently conducted a study that drew a strong link between cancer and retinyl palmitate on skin exposed to sunlight. Read more about this study here.
High SPF does not equal better protection – studies show that a higher SPF is not necessarily a better choice. Many high SPF products contain greater amount of hormone disruptors and other chemicals than lower SPF sunscreens. In addition, people who rely on a high SPF often spend a longer amount of time in the sun without reapplying, increasing their exposure to harmful UVA rays. Remember, just because you don’t burn doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. EWG recommends an SPF of 30 instead.
Apply liberally – most people don’t get the full SPF protection because they don’t put nearly enough on their skin. Lather it on. General rule is about an ounce (equal to a shot glass) to cover your body. Adjust accordingly based on your body size.
Mineral vs. Chemical – EWG determined that mineral sunscreens have the best safety profile of today’s choices. A mineral sunscreen sits on top of your skin without penetrating, blocks all the UVA and UVB rays, and doesn’t break down in the sunlight releasing harsh chemicals. The downside is that mineral sunscreens do not rub in as well. If the texture is a deal breaker for you, then you may want to go with the best possible non-mineral sunscreen from EWG’s guide.
Did you know that Europe has a higher standard for sunscreens (and other cosmetics for that matter). That’s right. Manufacturers make separate products for U.S.
I’m going shopping for sunscreen tomorrow. What sunscreen do you use?