Now that the weather is beginning to warm up, it’s time again to think about sunscreens. There are a lot of options on the market, but they are not all created equal. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group maintains a helpful listing of the brands that contain the least toxic ingredients while still proving effective sun protection.
Here are some general tips to keep you and your family healthy and happy in the sun:
- Choose an SPF between 20 and 50
A sunscreen with an SPF less than 20 is unlikely to be very effective, but a higher SPF (i.e. above 50) usually means more chemicals without much added sun protection. SPF is an abbreviation for sun protection factor and only refers to protection against UVB rays that burn the skin. However, it is UVA rays that cause skin aging and can promote skin cancer. High SPF sunscreens can give you a false sense of protection, because although they may keep you from burning, they don’t necessarily protect you from skin cancer causing UVA rays.
- Apply it correctly!
Sunscreen only works if you use it right. To be effective mostly sunscreen needs to be applied 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure and should be reapplied at least every 2 hours. Even if you choose a “Sport” or “Water Resistant” variety sunscreen needs to be reapplied after 80 minutes of swimming or vigorous exercise that causes you to sweat. You also need to reapply immediately after towel drying.
- Skip the sprays
Spray sunscreens may seem like easy, hassle-free options, but they make it difficult to tell if they are being applied correctly and they pose potential inhalation risks.
- Avoid toxic chemicals
Specifically, steer clear of: oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, and retinyl palmitate. The Environmental Working Group provides a good explanation of why these ingredients are best avoided. Instead of chemical sunscreens, look for mineral based options that contain zinc oxide, a natural ingredient that protects against dangerous UVA rays.
- Avoid sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day
If at all possible, avoid prolonged exposure during the times of day when the sun is directly overhead, usually 12-3pm. This will help protect skin from aging and damage that could increase your risk of skin cancer.