Before you slather on another generous layer of sunscreen on your face or body, and go into the sun, you need to read this!
If you go to your local drugstore and pick up a sunscreen for yourself and your family, there’s a good chance that it will contain toxic chemicals that the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2011 Sunscreen Guide recommends completely avoiding.
This is true whether you choose a product with a high SPF or even for some of those that claim to be “natural.” In fact, EWG recommends just 1 in 5 of more than 600 beach and sport sunscreens rated. Unfortunately, many Americans will be unknowingly bathing their bodies in toxic and ineffective sunscreen lotions when they head outdoors this summer—but you don’t have to be one of them.
The EWG sunscreen guide can help you determine which sunscreens are unsafe. The group recommends just 20 percent of the 600-plus sport sunscreens it evaluated.
For a product to score high marks, it needed to be free of potentially harmful chemicals. Not surprisingly, their list of products-to-avoid list contains some popular brands.
This is what EWG says:
Avoid oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Many effective products contain one or both compounds — oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate — that the EWG specifically suggests avoiding. Oxybenzone is an endocrine disrupter, the EWG says, and retinyl palmitate is a form of topical vitamin A that some animal studies suggest may be linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.”
Five Sunscreen “Red Flags” To Look Out For
EWG’s “Hall of Shame” features sunscreen products that embody the worst of the worst when it comes to sun protection. You can spot these products by being aware of these red flags:
1. Contains Oxybenzone
Sixty-five percent of non-mineral sunscreens on the U.S. market contain oxybenzone. This chemical penetrates your skin in large amounts, potentially triggering allergic reactions.
Oxybenzone is also a potential endocrine-disrupting chemical that can cause hormone disruption and cell damage.
It’s been found that 97 percent of Americans are intoxicated with oxybenzone, and researchers have specifically advised against using this chemical on children, who are especially vulnerable to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Writing in the Journal the Lancet, researchers noted:
“It would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time unless no alternative protection is available.
There may be an additional concern for young children who have less well-developed processes of elimination and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults, with respect to systemic availability of a topically applied dose.”
2. Contains Vitamin A (Retinyl Palmitate)
The sunscreen industry uses vitamin A in its formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that is thought to slow skin aging. However, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study found that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when used in sunscreen and therefore exposed to sunlight may actually speed the development of skin lesions and tumors.
This conclusion came from EWG’s analysis of the findings released by the FDA and the National Toxicology Program. As EWG stated in the 2011 report:
“EWG analysis of product labels finds retinoid ingredients in hundreds of sunscreens, skin lotions, lipsticks and lip sunscreens—all of which pose safety concerns for sun-exposed skin. At this point, the NTP [National Toxicology Program] and FDA have invested more than a decade in studying retinoids, concluding in January 2011 that both retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid speed the development of cancerous lesions and tumors.
A year after EWG sounded the alarm about retinyl palmitate, there is still no FDA position on the safety of retinoids in cosmetics. Sunscreen industry trade groups continue to dispute EWG’s warning. Most cosmetics companies have not removed these ingredients from sunscreens and other skin and lip products.
EWG recommends that consumers avoid products containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate and retinol.”
Many brands still include retinyl palmitate in their formulas, so beware, and always check the labels when shopping for sunscreen products.
3. Synthetic And Toxic Chemicals
Other synthetic chemicals that are often used in sunscreen preparations can get into your bloodstream and can cause all sorts of unwanted toxic side effects, including hormone disruption.
Some of these chemicals include:
- Octyl methoxycinnamate
4. Inadequate UVA Protection
The EWG analysis found that more than 60 percent of products reviewed provide inadequate UVA protection, and are actually so ineffective that they would not be approved in the European market. There are two primary types of UV rays from sunlight that you need to be concerned with: the vitamin-D-producing UVB rays and the skin-damaging UVA light.
Both UVA and UVB can cause tanning and burning, although UVB does so far more rapidly. UVA, however, penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB, and may be a much more important factor in photoaging, wrinkles and skin cancers.
Since UVA’s are inherently more damaging AND persistently high during all daylight hours, wearing a sunscreen that doesn’t protect you from UVA is going to give you virtually no benefit and be detrimental to your overall health. So it’s important to understand that if you’re using sunscreen, you need to be certain you are actually getting UVA protection.
5. Too High SPF or in Spray Form
Higher SPF sunscreens (SPF 50+) are not intrinsically harmful, however there’s evidence that the higher protection level gives people a misleading sense of security, encouraging them to stay in the sun longer than they should. In reality, research suggests that people using high-SPF sunscreens get the same or similar exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays as those using lower-SPF products.
Spray-on sunscreens (or powders) were advised against because potentially toxic particles are released into the air, making them easy to breathe in as well.
What Are The Best And Safest Sunscreens?
After the analysis was complete, EWG concluded:
“The best sunscreen is a hat and a shirt. Zero absorption of chemicals through the skin, no questions about whether they work.”
I second this sentiment completely! I have long stated that one of the best strategies to protect yourself from the sun is actually not a sunscreen at all, it’s wearing clothing or getting into the shade. This is precisely because, as EWG’s findings support, most sunscreens are loaded with toxic chemicals that can actually accelerate skin cancer, or get into your bloodstream where they can disrupt your hormones.
Also, the protection sunscreen manufacturers claim is often misleading.
Cotton clothing provides about SPF 15. In other words, you will get about 15 times your skin’s normal protection from the sun wherever you cover your body with clothing. Just remember that even with protective clothing on your body, it’s still important to monitor your skin for the telltale signs of burning.
However, safer sunscreen options do exist to provide safe protection from the sun during times when you may not be able to control the amount of sun exposure you are likely to receive with clothing. For instance, if you take your kids to an amusement park or the beach, you might just be in direct sunlight all day.
Safe Natural Sunscreen
Other safe sunscreen ingredients that will nourish your skin include:
- Coconut oil
- Jojoba oil
- Shea butter
- Vitamins D and E
- Eucalyptus oil
Your Best And Worst Sunscreen Choices
Your safest and best choice for sunscreen protection is zinc oxide. Avoid nano versions however, to circumvent potential toxicity. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to find a product without other chemically based sunscreen filters. To help you choose the product best for your family, EWG performs an annual sunscreen evaluation based on effectiveness and safety.
Sixty brands received the EWG’s low-hazard ingredient list ranking this year. Their report published the best and worst choices for children, but only the best choices for adults.1, 2, 3 Here’s a sampling of the best and worst:
Best Beach And Sport Sunscreens For Adults
- All Good Sunscreen and Sunstick, SPF 30 and 50
- All Terrain Aqua and TerraSport Sunscreens, SPF 30
- Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Badger Sunscreen Cream and Lotion, SPF 25, 30, and 35
- Bare Belly Organics, SPF 34
- Beauty Without Cruelty, SPF 30
- Kiss My Face Organics Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Nature’s Gate Face Sunscreen, SPF 25
- Tropical Sands Sunscreen and Facestick, SPF 30
- Releve Organic Skincare, SPF 20
- Star Naturals Sunscreen Stick, SPF 25
The Best for Kids
- Adorable Baby Sunscreen lotion, SPF 30
- All Good Kid’s Sunscreen, SPF 33
- All Terrain KidSport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
- ATTITUDE Little Ones 100% Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
- BabyHampton Beach Bum Sunscreen, SPF 30
- COOLA Suncare Baby Mineral Sunscreen, unscented moisturizer, SPF 50.
- Belly Button & Babies Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30.
- Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, SPF 35.
- BurnOut Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF 35
- California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Goddess Garden Kids Sport Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
- Jersey Kids Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
- Kiss My Face Organics Kids Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Nurture My Body Baby Organic Sunscreen, SPF 32
- Substance Baby Natural Sun Care Creme, SPF 30
- Sunology Natural Sunscreen, Kids, SPF 50
- Sunumbra Sunkids Natural Sunscreen, SPF 40
- Thinksport for Kids Sunscreen, SPF 50
- TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30
The Worst for Kids
On the 1 to 10 scale, the below products scored a 7 or higher (with 10 being the worst) because they made high SPF claims or had higher amounts of the additives oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.
- Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100**
- Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Stick, Wacky Foam, and Sunscreen lotion, SPF 55
- CVS Baby Sunstick Sunscreen and Spray, SPF 55
- Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
- Hampton Sun Continuous Mist Sunscreen For Kids, SPF 70
- Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray and Stick products, SPF 70
- Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
**This was the only product that got a 10.
Why You Should NOT Wear Sunscreen Every Time You’re Outdoors
Getting safe sun exposure every day is actually one of the best things you can do for your health, because sun exposure allows your body to naturally produce your own supply of vitamin D.
Why is vitamin D so important?
If you’ve spent any time on my site at all, you know that I’m a firm advocate for optimizing your vitamin D levels because it impacts so many aspects of health. For example, this superb nutrient is known to help:
- Support your cardiovascular health
- Support healthy kidney function
- Enhance your muscle strength
- Promote healthy teeth
- Help produce optimal blood pressure levels
- Help keep your bones strong and healthy
- Help maintain a healthy immune system
- Reduce the risk of cancer
This list of important benefits represents only a fraction of the many ways vitamin D helps optimize your health. And, although you can obtain vitamin D from natural food sources or supplements, experts agree on one thing: Sunlight is by far the best way to get your vitamin D. The so-called experts who advise you to avoid all sunlight and religiously apply sunscreen are actually encouraging you to increase your risk of cancer, not lower it…
Over the years, several studies have already confirmed that appropriate sun exposure may even help prevent skin cancer. In fact, melanoma occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure, and can be increased by sunscreens.
The key is to find a healthy balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production and maintain your optimal health, while at the same time protecting yourself from damage that occurs from overexposure to the sun. The point to remember is that once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink (if you’re Caucasian), it’s time to get out of the sun. Past this point of exposure your body will not produce any more vitamin D and you’ll begin to have sun damage. And sunburn anywhere on your body is not good for your health.