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Buying Better Sunscreens

We all know how important sunscreen is to our skin. Without sun protection, we risk getting burned and, down the line, getting wrinkles, spots, and of course, skin cancer. But not all sunscreen is created equal. 

One common myth is that a super high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is better. But studies have shown that any SPF rating above 60 is no more effective than its counterparts with SPF 50.

Another quality factor when considering which sunscreen to buy is whether it is labeled “Broad Spectrum.” According to skincancer.org, “UVA rays cause skin damage that leads to skin aging and wrinkles. The shortest wavelengths of UVA rays also contribute to sunburn. It’s important to look for the words “broad spectrum” on the label, which means the product has ingredients that can protect you from UVA as well as UVB rays.”

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Sunscreens have been under scrutiny lately as studies show that sunscreens fortified with Vitamin A may actually speed the development of skin cancer. In May, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that participants absorbed the chemicals avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule through their skin very quickly, resulting in higher concentrations in their blood than recommended by the FDA.

Those chemicals are also harming coral reefs in our oceans. Hawaii and the City of Key West, Florida recently passed laws banning sunscreens with oxybenzone
and octinoxate.

This information can be overwhelming when it comes to choosing the best sunscreen for your family, but fortunately there’s an excellent resource to turn to—the Environmental Working Group’s annual guide to sunscreens—to find a product you can rely on. This year EWG researchers rated the safety and efficacy of more than 1,300 SPF products, including sunscreens, daily moisturizers and lip balms with SPF values. This year’s guide also offers tips to help shoppers find the right option for themselves and their families.

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This year’s guide includes specific lists of well rated products, including ”Best Sunscreens for Kids,” ”Best Non-Mineral Sunscreens,” and ”Best Rated Beach & Sports Sunscreens.” You can also search for your favorite brand or specific sunscreen to see how it stacks up. 

One of our staff favorites, Blue Lizard, ranked well with all of its products, as did another favorite of mine, Goddess Garden. Last summer I found it to be a tad thick when applying, but it always did a great job and rates well with EWG. This year’s info even rates some of the Goddess Garden sprays in its “acceptable“ range, which has not often been the case in recent years. 

In fact, you won’t find many spray sunscreens in the guide, because even though they are prevalent, sprays pose an inhalation risk and may not provide an adequate coating on the skin to ensure proper protection.

This year’s guide also offers a host of sunscreen sticks, which proved to be a game changer for our family last summer as they allowed the kids to apply sunscreen to their own faces, and they even did it themselves easily at the beach and camp. My favorite Neutrogena line from last year scored a poor score this year, but there were several other in the Neutrogena family that fared better.

When you’ve found a product you’re interested in, you can head straight to Amazon to buy it. If you’re out and about and need sunscreen help, EWG’s Healthy Living app can help you make a choice on the go.

As you head into summer, remember: sunscreen is safe, sunscreen is effective, sunscreen is important. But it’s not the only defense you should employ. Also take care to seek shade, wear protective clothing and sunglasses and keep out of the sun as much as possible during peak hours.

—Ann Levelle


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