Green Living

How to Choose Safe and Effective Sunscreen

How to choose safe and effective sunscreen

How long does it take you to choose sunscreen at the drugstore? 
With so many brands to choose from, and varying SPF ratings, I find choosing a trustworthy sunscreen can be an exercise in frustration. That’s why I always turn to the Environmental Working Group’s guide to sunscreens.

Each year Environmental Working Group, a research agency in the U.S., reviews the safety and effectiveness of sunscreen. They analyze government data, ingredient lists, run their own tests and then publish their annual guide to sunscreen, a helpful tool for finding safe and effective sunscreen.
How to choose safe and effective sunscreen

How to Choose Safe and Effective Sunscreen:

  • Choose sunscreen with an SPF rating that’s between 30 and 50. Research has shown that higher SPF ratings are often inaccurate. As well, they lull users into staying in the sun longer, feeling protected so not reapplying often enough.
  • Avoid spray-on sunscreen. I know it’s easy to apply, especially on kids, users often don’t apply a thick enough coating of sunscreen when they spray and patches of skin can be missed entirely. The other worry is inhalation. This is a big concern for kids since they can end up in a cloud of spray-screen as parents coat them from head to toe.
  • Avoid sunscreen that lists retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A) as an ingredient. Also listed as retinol, it’s an antioxidant that, when exposed to, sunlight, accelerates harmful skin damage so may actually promote the development of skin cancer.
  • Oxybenzone is another ingredient to look out for. It’s a known hormone disruptor and can also cause allergic reactions.
  • As melanoma rates climb we’re reminded to not just rely on sunscreen to protect ourselves from the sun. Last year Health Canada updated their sun safety guidelines and now recommends that we all use broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30. As well, the agency suggests we avoid the sun between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest, and cover up with broad-rimed hats, tight-weave or SPF clothing and sunglasses.
  • Toss out old sunscreen if it clumps or separates 

Safe & effective sunscreen is easy to find.

Of the nearly 900 kinds of sunscreen reviewed by EWG this year, 240 met their criteria for safe and effective sunscreen. Few of these are easy to find in local stores but below are eight that receive ratings of three or better (10 is the worst) and should be easy to find. (Keep in mind that brands can have products with great ratings and poor ratings across their range of sunscreen products.)
Kiss My Face Organics Kids Sunscreen, SPF 30
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Face Stick Sunscreen, SPF 50
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 50
Banana Boat Protect and Hydrate SPF 30
Green Beaver sunscreen isn’t rated by EWG but is mineral based so considered safe and effective.

Just because you didn’t get a sunburn doesn’t mean your skin wasn’t damaged by the sun.

There are two kinds of sun rays that can damage your skin: UVA and UVB. UVB rays cause sunburns but UVA rays are those that cause long-term damage to our skin. SPF refers only to UVB coverage offered by sunscreen. “Broad-spectrum” protects your skin from both UVB and UVA rays, but the amount of UVA protection varies a lot.


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