Summer is fast approaching, which means protecting your skin (and your family's) against the sun's harmful rays is crucial. But your usual sun care routine may need some updates. Now that the new 2018 Safe Sunscreen Guide from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is out, it's the perfect time to make sure you and your kids are avoiding any unnecessary sun exposure, and keeping yourselves protected when you are outside. As it turns out, there's a lot to learn about sunscreen, even for dedicated SPF fiends like me.
In its 12th annual guide, the EWG presents safety and efficiency ratings for over 1,000 sunscreens, lip balms, and general moisturizers with any kind of stated sun protection. It's an impressive database with a ton of information, and some of the ratings might surprise you. "The majority of sunscreens available in the U.S. aren’t as good as most consumers think they are," said Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at EWG. By browsing their site you can quickly see that some sunscreens, even expensive ones, are not rated as effective as others. Huge disparities in SPF values, as well as the inclusion of potentially harmful ingredients, can make shopping for sunscreen tricky and confusing.
To help you and your family prepare for more time outside, here are a few of the top-rated sunscreens from the EWG. There are many other brands and formulas with high ratings, too, so feel free to browse their database for more options.
FOR BEACH OR SPORTS
FOR DAILY MOISTURIZING
Sunscreen isn't the best or only option when it comes to sun protection, however. Here is some advice about what to look for, as well as what to avoid, in your next sunscreen purchase, as well as some additional sun safety advice. With a little guidance, you and your family can stay safe in the sun all summer long.
This is a common ingredient in many sunscreens, and one that the EWG claims is potentially harmful in part because it can enter a person's bloodstream. "Oxybenzone is a hormone disruptor that is harmful to both adults and kids, and is commonly found in non-mineral sunscreens. A recent study found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had significantly lower total testosterone levels," said Carla Burns, a coauthor of the 2018 Guide to Sunscreens and a research analyst at EWG. In fact, the EWG is petitioning to remove all Oxybenzone from sunscreens.
However, it is helpful to also note the American Academy Of Dermatology's stance on this ingredient. "This is one of the few ingredients in sunscreen that effectively protects our skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays," they noted on their website, and has been approved by the FDA for use on people who are over 6 months old.
2. Beware High SPF Ratings
The higher the SPF the better, right? Not necessarily. "SPF values of 75, 80, or 100 lull Americans into thinking their skin is fully protected from the sun’s harmful rays for extended periods of time,” said David Andrews, senior scientist of the EWG. Sunscreens rated higher than 50+ SPF are best avoided because they do not offer any increased UVA protection, and they can provide a false sense of security — some may also reapply less often thinking they have better and stronger coverage than what they are actually getting. It's better to use a lower SPF and reapply often.
3. Rethink Aerosol
When it comes to effective sun protection, it looks like old-school lotion is the way to go because they're most effective when it comes to protection. "Sprays have inhalation risks and are difficult to apply a thick and even coating, especially on children that don’t want to sit still during application,” said Burns. If you've ever tried to spray down a wriggly toddler, then you know this difficulty well. Try lathering on a lotion instead.
4. Read The Label
What does that ingredient list on the back of your sunscreen even say? The sunscreen label decoder from the EWG will help you tell which ingredients are useful, and what's just there for marketing. It's especially important to pay attention to the application directions as well, because many people don't apply enough sunscreen.
5. Watch Unburned Skin, Too
Even if you don't get a sunburn, you may still experience skin damage from sun exposure. Some lower-quality useful sunscreens may prevent your skin from burning, but offer insufficient protection against UVA rays, which may lead to melanoma. A safe, quality sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum, lasting protection is the best, as noted by the EWG.
6. Use Clothes And Shade As Protection
When it comes to sun protection, sunscreen is kind of the last resort. Covering up with clothes, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and seeking shade are also crucial components of sun protection, according to Burns. Staying indoors is always an option, too.
7. Keeping Children Safe From Sun Damage Is Crucial
Sure, it takes a little time to review the database for a child-friendly sunscreen that meets your needs, but its importance for your child is almost impossible to overstate. "Children are more vulnerable to sun damage and the number of sunscreen options that contain worrisome ingredients or offer inferior sun protection is especially of concern. Getting severe sunburns as a child can double a person’s lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer,” said Burns. Enjoy your time in the sun as a family, but be sure to lather up with a quality sunscreen first and reapply often.