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A Guide to Safe Suncreen

Summer is coming – which sunscreen will you slather on your skin?

Sunscreen is a product that we are encouraged to use to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays while enjoying the outdoors. If you’re a parent, it’s likely you are even more concerned about protecting your children’s sensitive skin and making the safest choice possible.

But what to do we really know about the safety of the products we are choosing – in my research – it seems clear that we don’t know enough.

Note – be prepared when switching to safer sunscreens you are going to move into products that are going to be thicker, whiter and slower to absorb that other sunscreen choices.  This is because they rely on a high concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to block the suns rays.

Look for:
At least 7% zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for UVA & UVB protection.

What to Avoid:
Spray and Powder Sunscreen
Sunscreen insect repellent combo – pesticides absorbing into your body
Ingredients; Oxybenzone or benzophenone-3, skin absorption, allergies, hormone problems
Brands; Coppertone, Banana Boat and Most Neutrogena

From the EWG:
No one understands the health implications of our exposures to complex mixtures of industrial compounds and pollutants: remarkably, federal health standards do not require companies to test most products for safety before they are sold, including nearly all chemicals in sunscreen and other personal care products. Little is known about the safety of most industrial chemicals. In the absence of data the federal government approves new chemicals for the market using computer models to predict if they are toxic to humans.

After 30 years of debate,the government has failed to set mandatory sunscreen safety standards. Companies are free to make their own decisions on everything from advertising claims to product quality. FDA now stands in direct violation of a Congressional mandate requiring the agency to finalize sunscreen safety standards by May 2006, flouting not only Congress but also consumers, who are reliant on sunscreen to protect their health.

EWG’s Top Ten List:

Blue Lizard
California Baby (SPF 30 or Higher)
CVS (with zinc oxide
Jason Natural Cosmetics – Sunbrellas Mineral Based Sunblock
Kiss My Face – Paraben Free series
Neutrogena – Sensative Skin Sunblock
Olay Defense Daily UV Moisturizer with zinc
SkinCeuticals Physical UV Defense
Solar Sense Clear Zinc for Face
Walgreens Zinc Oxide for Face, Nose, & Ears

My Picks:

After studying the EWG’s extensive list the following products have an EWG score of 0-3 for toxicity. My selections are for individual products, not the brands in general, as brand scores can vary widely.

Jason Natural Cosmetics Sunbrellas: Mineral Based Physical Sunblock SPF 30+
Kiss My Face Sunscreen Spf#30 + With Oat Protein 100% Paraben Free
Nature’s Gate Organics Be Solective Sunscreen for Face, SPF 30
All California Baby Sunscreens

Dermalogica Super Sensitive Face Block, SPF 30
Mustela Sun Cream for Sensitive Areas, SPF 50
Kiehl’s All-Sport ‘non-Freeze’ Face Protector, SPF 30
DDF Organic Sunblock, SPF 30

CVS Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide, SPF 45+
Walgreens Sunblock with Zinc Oxide for Face, Nose & Ears, SPF 45+
Olay Complete Defense Daily UV Moisturizer, SPF 30 – Available at my Target
No-Ad Ultra Sunblock Lotion, SPF 60

If you must use a spray – these are your best bets:
Almay Sun Protector for Body Spray, SPF 30
Dermalogica Waterblock Solar Spray, SPF 30
Banana Boat Ultra Mist Kid’s Tear Free Continuous Spray Sunblock Lotion, SPF 30 – Only SPF 30 the SPF 50 is rated 9!

Shopping at Target:
I was recently at target, they had walls of sunscreen. I could only find one of the above products – After an hour of research using my telephone I was able to find 2 sunscreens that were an EWG 3 and the lowest score for a spray was a 5.
Coppertone WaterBabies Pure & Simple – SPF 50 – oil, fragrance & dye free
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunblock Lotion – SPF 60+
Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen – SPF 50

To learn more:

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • JenLippman June 11, 2009, 11:34 pm

    When you say, “If you must use spray”, why are these sprays better than others? I must admit, I am a lazy sunscreener and often use sprays. I happen to use the Almay, but only because it seemed the tiniest bit less scary than all the others for some reason.

    • Tania Reuben June 12, 2009, 2:00 am

      They are better based on the ingredients they contain and their hazard rating in the Cosmetics Database from the EWG. The reason sprays are not recommended overall – due to the nature of a spray application… ingredients will be inhaled, which is a good deal less desirable. I only included the sprays in the report because without the sprays – my back gets a sunburn! This year I’m only using cream on my children.

  • Emily June 22, 2009, 8:52 pm

    I am surprised no chemical-free sunscreens were mentioned. My son’s skin is extremely sensitive and all the  sunscreens i could buy (most of which were listed in this article) all caused horrible eczema outbreaks. The dermatologist suggested chemical free sunscreen, as the chemicals used in the sunscreen – and yes, this included the “natural” brands such as California Baby, Kiss My Face, Nature’s Gate – which by the way, i saw on the news over a year ago has been found to have cancer-causing components in the ingredients – may be irritating his skin. and yes – it worked! Burt’s Bees Chemical Free and Earth’s Bests chemical free sunscreens are now used on my son and we have had no problems. Why weren’t chemical free sunscreens explored?

    • Tania Reuben June 22, 2009, 11:23 pm

      Thank you for you comment!

      Let me break down a little further how I formulated this guide and give you a little further insight my approach.

      I used the EWG’s cosmetic database as my starting point for putting this list together – sifting through the over 900 sunscreen’s they have rated. The sunscreens also had to score in in the 0-3 hazard on the cosmetic database list from EWG. Scoring this low unfortunately doesn’t mean that all potentially harmful chemicals aren’t present. Sadly a product with a score of 1 can have 4 or 5 marks of concern in their bio. For me, it’s about choosing the lessor evil.

      EWG looks at whether the sunscreen protects against UVA, were safe and effective, whether the ingredients would break down with sun exposure (46% of products on the market contain ingredients that do), whether they contain nano particles, whether the product makes questionable claims – a common misleading claim they’ve identified is labeling a product chemical free.

      Once I had a short list I did some further research. I use quite a few of the burt’s bees products, it’s chemical free sunscreen didn’t make the guide because of a review that I encountered. The reviewer had used the burt’s bees sunscreen on one side and another brand on the other side of her stomach and was quite badly burned on the burt’s bees side. I’m glad that you have had success with it, but that made me too nervous to include it on the list. The Earth’s Best brand – if I recall correctly had numerous complaints about it’s ease of application. It’s score is 1, which is fantastic. It simply didn’t make the list for that reason, but another Jason’s mineral product did (I believe – they are owned by the same company)

      I tried to pull brands in a variety of price points – sunscreen can be very expensive and I wanted someone with a restricted budget to be able to find a better choice and not have to spend $20 for 4 oz.

      The sunscreens had to score in in the 0-3 hazard on the cosmetic database list. I recognize that some of these sunscreens contain ingredients that would not be my first choice – people that want to take it a step further can use the cosmetics database to dig further or see how their brand scores. However many people, myself included want to greatly reduce exposures and I feel this list gives a variety of options for achieving that goal.

      There were a number of brands that scored well with the EWG and didn’t make this guide simply because I didn’t recognize them – if it’s going to be on a list that is an effective tool for people when they are shopping, they need to be able to find them at a store near them.

      When I review a product on an individual basis I actually try the products and can speak from personal experience. I compiled this list so that I could do my own summer sunscreen shopping.

      The burt’s bees chemical free 30 is rated 3 in the Cosmetics Database and contains ingredients linked to cancer and the Jason’s Earth Best Mineral Based 30 is rated a 1 on the EWG, also contains ingredients linked to cancer. All things being equal, if I was choosing between the two I would pick the Earth’s Best.

  • theholisticchick July 26, 2010, 10:52 am

    *bangs head on desk*All right.  I purchased Alba Botanica Sun, their SPF 30 with the Lavender fragrance.  It was a toss-up between that and Kiss My Face.  The Alba Botanica won out because I thought it would be nice to have a lavender scent.Not so much, really.  Under active ingredients, the third is Oxybenzone 6.0% w/w.  Was I fooled. 

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