The sun provides our bodies with a number of health benefits, particularly through vitamin D3, which is known as the sunshine vitamin. But with exposure to the sun comes the risk of overexposure, sunburns and possibly skin cancer – all of which pose serious threats. In fact, 20 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
While we can turn to sunscreens to help protect ourselves from some of the negative side effects of too much sun, all sunscreens are not created equal. Specifically, a report from the Environmental Working Group found that nearly 75 percent of sunscreens don’t work. So, how do you choose a sunscreen that’s effective and healthy? Start by following these guidelines:
1. Avoid oxybenzone.
According to the EWG, oxybenzone is found in 80 percent of chemical sunscreens and has been found in the bodies of 96 percent of the U.S. population. The problem with this is that oxybenzone is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning it acts like estrogen in the body. The compound is linked to abnormal sperm function in animal studies and endometriosis in women, and it may be linked to cellular damage that leads to skin cancer.
2. Avoid retinyl palmitate and other vitamin A ingredients.
When purchasing a sunscreen, you should also try to steer clear of retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A. Retinyl palmitate may harm the skin and even possibly lead to skin tumors. According to the EWG, this ingredient carries a risk for developmental and reproductive toxicity, biochemical and cellular changes, cancer and more.
3. Choose a mineral sunscreen.
There are three types of sunscreen options: non-mineral, mineral and a combination. Always select a mineral sunscreen, since non-mineral options penetrate the skin. At that point, they can enter the bloodstream, where they can then disrupt hormones, trigger allergic responses and release free radicals as they break down.
Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, contain zinc or titanium, which do not break down in sunlight, are not usually absorbed and are non-allergenic. What’s more, they are more effective at blocking UVA rays than non-mineral sunscreens. For these reasons, mineral sunscreens are generally rated as safer, though they do often contain nanoparticles, which are not tightly regulated and haven’t been studied for long-term impact.
4. Avoid spray sunscreens.
First and most simply, it’s very difficult to apply spray sunscreens in a thickness that will provide enough protection. Plus, it increases the risk of inhaling harmful chemicals directly into your lungs and subjecting everyone around you to the same threat.
5. Be wary of ultra-high SPFs.
When using ultra-high SPF sunscreens, you probably feel like you’re better protecting yourself from the sun – and that’s how sunblock companies want you to feel. In reality, however, UVA protection is often lacking in products with an SPF or 70 or more.
In other countries, SPF is usually capped at 50. And since the U.S. hasn’t approved ingredients that would increase broad-spectrum protection above 50, manufacturers typically use higher concentrations of approved but unhealthy ingredients (like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate) to seemingly increase a sunscreen’s SPF.
Along with the inherent threats of high SPF sunscreens, a false sense of security in these products often leads sunbathers to misuse them and stay longer in the sun without reapplying.
6. Ignore misleading claims like “waterproof” and “sweatproof.”
The FDA banned the use of claims such as “waterproof” and “sweatproof” on sunscreen bottles in 2011 because these marketing terms are misleading to customers. However, other terms such as “sun shield” and “age shield” still appear on bottles. These marketing terms imply full protection against any potential harmful effects from the sun, making customers believe that sunscreen is all they need to protect their skin, which is simply not true.
The Best Sunscreen Options
The reality is that the best sunscreen is a hat and a shirt. By covering the skin, you don’t have to worry about chemicals, efficacy or reapplying. After all, no conventional sunscreen blocks all of the sun’s rays.
But when you must buy a sunscreen, it’s important to check the EWG database first. The healthiest sunscreens contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. You can also make your own homemade sunscreen. Here’s my recipe:
Start to finish: 20 to 30 minutes
10 drops lavender
1 tablespoon pomegranate oil
3/4 cups coconut oil
2 tablespoon zinc oxide
2 tablespoons shea butter
Combine all ingredients except zinc oxide in a jar.
Place a saucepan with two inches of water on stove over medium/low heat.
Place jar in saucepan and stir contents until ingredients start to melt.
Once all ingredients are combined, add in zinc oxide and stir well. Store in a cool place.