Which Sunscreen Is The Best Sunscreen?

father puts sunscreen on daughter pool
It’s sunscreen shopping season and the just-released 2012 Sunscreen Guide published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) helps steer consumers toward healthy, affordable choices for sunscreen, lip balms and cosmetics.

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The leading cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and, according to the National Cancer Institute, over one million people are diagnosed a year. On top of this, many African Americans assume that, due to their darker skin tones, they can skip sunscreen altogether. The result? Higher death rates from melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer.

Often people grab whatever sunscreen is labeled with the highest SPF and assume it’s the best. The EWG guide warns shoppers that choosing a safe product isn’t just about the numbers. Their research spotlights potential health hazards:

Dangerous ingredients. Retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A) may cause tumors and lesions to develop more quickly when skin is exposed to the sun. Nneka Leiba, Senior Research Analyst and the guide’s lead author, says that “The FDA and National Toxicology both say it may heighten risk of skin damage and cancer.” Oxybenzone is linked to hormone disruption and can cause allergic reactions. EWG recommends choosing products with one of these ingredients instead: zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, or Mexoryl S.

Sprays or powders. These formulations can fill the air with tiny particles that EWG says are dangerous to inhale. They can cause lung inflammation and may be carcinogenic.

SPF values above 50+. The FDA says these labels are misleading and may encourage people to stay out in the sun for too long. Since SPF is based only on UVB protection (which prevents sunburn but does not guard against premature aging and deeper tissue damage), users of super high SPF products often have a false sense of security.

The guide comes on the heels of a recent announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they will give sunscreen manufacturers an additional six months to comply with guidelines that were that were outlined in June, 2011 and were aimed to ending confusion about sunscreen labeling. The FDA guidelines, which were to go into effect June 18, encouraged companies to use ingredients that protect against both UVB and UVA rays, required warning labels on products with lower than an SPF 14 rating, and banned manufacturers from using unsubstantiated terms such as “waterproof,” “sunblock,” and claims of “all-day protection.”

Since the FDA guidelines now won’t go into effect until long past beach season, the EWG Sunscreen Guide is your best bet for finding effective products.

Best Affordable Sunscreens

• Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
• BabyGanics Cover Up Baby Sunscreen for Face & Body, Fragrance Free, SPF 50+
• Sunbow Dora the Explorer Sunscreen, Pink, SPF 30
• Purple Prairie Botanicals SunStuff Mineral Lotion, SPF 30
• Nature’s Gate Aqua Block Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
• Solbar Shield Sunscreen, SPF 40
• Caribbean Solutions Sol Kid Kare Biodegradable Sunscreen, SPF 25
• Tropical Sands Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 30
• KidsUV Natural Sunscreen, Blue, SPF 30
• Color Me Pink Baby UV/ Kids UV 100% Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30
• Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunblock, Kids Mineral Protection, SPF 30
• Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Face, SPF 30+
• Healing-Scents Live Long Mineral-Based Sunscreen, SPF 25
• Hara Body Care Hara Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30
• Vanicream Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 35

How Do You Apply Sunscreen?

It is important to be aware that sunscreen isn’t going provide you with proper protection if you don’t apply it correctly, and only about one in five people actually do so on a daily basis.

“Adults need to apply a palmful an ounce of sunscreen every two hours,” Leiba. “Don’t slather it on once and stay out all day.” Leiba also recommends that you avoid the sun completely from 10AM to 2PM and use a hat, clothing, and sunglasses as your primary protection.