Choosing the best sunscreen for your family isn’t easy. The number of brands – new and old – packing the shelves seems endless and researchers are constantly churning out new findings on what ingredients are deemed ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for our health. For safe, effective protection for your family, here are 7 tips to keep in mind when choosing your sunscreen this summer, from eco boutique Lavish & Lime.
1. To get the most from your sunscreen, look for ‘broad spectrum protection’ meaning it protects against both UVB rays, which cause sunburn, and UVA rays, the leading cause of premature aging of the skin. All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but only some protect against UVA.
2. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are minerals and sunscreens containing minerals are best, according to the National Geographic Green Guide. These two minerals reflect ultraviolet (UV) rays before they reach your skin, while other sunscreens use chemicals that absorb UV rays. Minerals also block both UVB and UVA rays. However, it’s worth noting that recent medical research has identified some concern around titanium dioxide.
3. You really want a sunscreen as chemical-free as possible. Avoid brands containing parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl- and benzyl-) as they can interfere with your hormonal systems and more. Other chemical ingredients to avoid include: benzophenone, oxybenzone and octinoxate. Chemical sunscreens don’t always protect against UVA rays. In fact, evidence shows that some – including those containing the chemical Avobenzone, or Parsol 1789 – can break down in sunlight in as little as half an hour. See the Green Guide for more ingredients to avoid.
4. Choose a sunscreen that is water resistant because let’s face it, even if you’re not near water, you’re more than likely going to sweat at least a little with the heat or while working out. Keep in mind that water resistant and waterproof are not the same. Waterproof is actually considered an incorrect term when applied to sunscreen products, says the EWG, as no sunscreen product is completely waterproof.
5. If you’re swimming in the ocean, choose a biodegradable sunscreen with plant-based ingredients to avoid damaging coral and other marine life. Any doubts, check out this great article from National Geographic that explains why.
6. Doctors recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of a minimum 15. Higher SPFs will give you more protection, but once you reach SPF 30, there isn’t a huge difference between products with higher SPF values. An SPF 50 product, for example, only blocks about 1.3% more UVB radiation than a SPF 30 product. When you start seeing 50, 70, 100 it seems the numbers are more about marketing than effectiveness. Keep in mind SPF is a measurement of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays. It does not cover UVA rays.
7. Steer clear of products that combine bug spray and sunscreen. Bugs may not be a problem during the hours that UV exposure peaks plus sunscreen may need to be reapplied more frequently than bug spray, or vice versa. An even bigger concern is that sunscreens often contain penetration enhancers. According to the EWG, studies indicate that concurrent use of sunscreens and pesticides leads to increased skin adsorption of the pesticide.
Check out your current brand or any you’re considering on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. It offers some good information and rates 400+ sunscreen products. The #1 brand is Soleo and it’s available online here. Interestingly, the traditional brands we all used growing up like Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic rate low on the database.
Louise Campbell is co-founder of Vancouver-based online eco boutique Lavish & Lime.