What could be better than a warm summer day spent by the lake, at the beach, or on the water? With the kids home from school and the long hours of daylight, summer is the perfect time to be outdoors soaking up the sun. However, no one wants to head home with a sunburn! Not only are these burns painful, but they can prematurely age the skin as well as cause DNA damage. Melanoma cases have doubled in the last 30 years, and overexposure to sun is thought to be a major culprit in the dramatic increase of this deadly form of cancer. That’s why using sunscreen is so important, whether your skin is light or dark, prone to freckling or tanning. Even if you tan easily or have naturally dark skin, you aren’t protected from UV radiation without sunscreen.
Most sunscreens are loaded with toxic chemicals that are dangerous to both you and the wildlife who live in and drink from the waters contaminated by sunscreen residues. Octinoxate, for example, a common sunscreen ingredient, generates free radicals and disrupts hormones. The oxybenzone in some sunscreens is an endocrine disrupter that accumulates quickly in the body, and it can also cause allergic reactions. Many sunscreens contain retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, which damages cells and may lead to skin cancer. Just as concerning is the fact that many of these chemical sunscreens do not offer enough UVA protection. While UVB rays cause more rapid skin burning, UVA rays (which can also burn) go deeper into the skin and are thought to contribute to many of the risks associated with sun exposure.
What about spray sunscreens?
In addition to containing toxins, spray sunscreens can pose further health hazards as they are more likely to be inhaled. Plus, spray sunscreens are flammable — not good if you’re cooking by the grill or hanging around a campfire! Spray sunscreens also tend to offer inadequate coverage and less UV protection. So while it might be more convenient to chase your kids with a spray bottle, rubbing in creams is optimal. For kids who try to run away mid-application, try offering a snack or a short video on your phone to get them to hold still while you’re applying sunblock. Use rashguards, hats, long sleeves, or long pants to minimize the areas that will need sunscreen.
What to Look For in a Sunscreen
EWG evaluated 1700 sunscreen products and found that 80% of them either failed to provide sufficient sun protection or contained toxic ingredients. When choosing a sunscreen, look for a physical sunblock with all natural ingredients. All of our sunscreens were rated a 1 in the EWG Skin Deep database and meet EWG criteria for safe, effective sunscreen.
Avoid high SPF sunscreens (SPF 80, SPF 100). Look for a sunblock with an SPF between 30-50. Other countries have already banned sunscreens with SPF of higher than 50. SPF 15 blocks 93% of ultraviolet rays while SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%. There is no advantage to sunscreens with an SPF higher than 50 — double SPF does not offer double protection — yet these sunblocks contain higher amounts of chemicals. Many also use these high SPF sunscreens incorrectly, increasing the risk of sunburn.
Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection, and water resistance (ideally 40-80 minutes of water protection) if you’ll be exercising, sweating, or swimming. Beware of allergens. Many sunscreens contain inactive ingredients that could trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. Choose a sunscreen without added vitamin A. EWG recommends avoiding products containing Vitamin A in the form of retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl linoleate, retinoic acid, and retinyl acetate, as these could lead to vitamin A toxicity, contribute to free radical damage, and spur cancerous tumor growth.
Sunscreens on EWG’s “Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens” List
According to EWG Skin Deep, all of these sunscreens are rated a 1, a top rating, and offer excellent UVA protection along with UVB protection, without any of the health hazards of toxic chemical sunscreens:
Thinksport Sunscreen, which offers broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection and 80 minutes of water resistance
Thinkbaby Thinksport for Kids Sunscreen, the best sunscreen for babies and kids
How to Use Sunscreen:
Apply sunblock 15-30 minutes before going outside or swimming. Reapply every 2 hours — every hour if you’re swimming or sweating a lot. Don’t use expired sunscreen — the ingredients deteriorate and become ineffective (and sometimes even dangerous) over time. You should be using enough sunscreen that you don’t have any leftover at the end of summer anyway. Use enough to cover your body, not just a little dab. Even on cloudy days, 80% of UV radiation reaches the Earth, which can cause burns, age skin, and increase skin cancer risk. This is why you should still wear sunscreen in cloudy weather if you are not covered or in the shade. Here are some additional sun safety tips from EWG:
Cover up: Use clothing to shield yourself from the sun, as this reduces risk by 27%. Wear lightweight pants, shirts, and a wide-brimmed hat.
Avoid midday sun: When the sun is highest in the sky (between 10-2pm in many areas), the rays are the strongest. Plan your outdoor time for early morning or late afternoon/evening.
Seek out shade: Staying in the shade can reduce the risk of multiple burns by 30%. Find trees or use an umbrella or canopy, especially for babies.
Avoid burns: If your skin is red, burned, or blistered, you had too much sun exposure.
Protect your eyes: Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.
Consult the UV Index: This number provides a way to gauge the sun risks and plan activities accordingly.
If you are limiting your sun exposure and wearing sunscreen, you’ll need to supplement with vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D can contribute to a poor immune system, cancers, and bone loss. Sources of vitamin D include: