Confused about which chemicals to avoid in your sunscreen? The Environmental Working Group, a consumer safety watchdog organization, just released its comprehensive buying guide. We’ve sorted through the findings to bring you the best sun-smart options that are free of harmful chemicals.
Sunscreen’s hidden dangers: What you need to know
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Confused about what’s safe and what’s not when it comes to sunscreen? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer-safety watchdog organization, provides some clear answers in its annual online buying guide. The bottom line: Opt for mineral-based sunscreens that feature titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as their main ingredients. These natural protectants sit on top of the skin, acting as a physical barrier to the sun and reflecting away its harmful UV rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, are absorbed into the body, and chemicals like oxybenzone may cause hormone disruptions, biochemical or cellular-level changes, as well as skin allergies. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are also toxic to coral reefs, and in 2018, Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens that contain them.
The FDA recently responded to these concerns and recommended an overhaul of the current safety regulations. Right now, only sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium have the FDA’s seal of approval, while others will need to provide more data on the common chemical ingredients in their products before a decision is made. Still, as the EWG notes, any changes won’t be reflected for a while, and lobbying agencies may dilute the proposed recommendations. That’s where this list comes in. Here’s the best of the best from the EWG’s list—for every skin type, lifestyle, and beauty concern.
The safest sunscreen for the beach
Consistently a top EWG pick for best sunscreen, thinksport’s SPF 50+ sunscreen is waterproof for up to 80 minutes, doesn’t feel oily, and—most important—provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection thanks to a 20 percent dose of non-nano zinc oxide. That sun protection can help slow down the age-related effects of the sun and, of course, help to prevent skin cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. An important note: When you’re applying sunscreen, make sure to cover any and all exposed skin. A study published in PLOS ONE in 2019 found that people often miss their eyelids and the surrounding eye area when applying sunscreen or moisturizers with SPF, leaving them more vulnerable to developing cancer in these delicate spots. Don’t miss these other sunscreen mistakes you may not know you’re making.
The safest sunscreen for everyday use
When you’re using something every single day, you definitely want it to be safe—and, let’s be honest, also easy to use. That’s why Badger Active Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 is so appealing. It provides broad-spectrum coverage and is water resistant for up to 40 minutes, but unlike many other mineral sunscreens, this one adjusts to your skin tone without leaving a white film. It’s also lightweight and fragrance-free. An important addendum: You should be using SPF every day, all year long. A study published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery in 2016 found that using sunscreen not only prevents future sun damage but can also reverse existing damage, including wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Scientists theorize this may be because blocking sun exposure with daily SPF allows the skin to rest and regenerate properly instead of incurring more damage and hindering the healing process. Find out the sunscreens dermatologists use on themselves.
The safest sunscreen for kids
Non-nano zinc is the main mineral block in TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen SPF 30, which is also eczema-safe and free of phthalates, parabens, and vitamin A. Chemical sunscreens are particularly worrisome when it comes to children because oxybenzone may disrupt estrogen and testosterone levels. While some researchers caution that more testing is needed to make a full ruling on this, why take the chance when there are fantastic alternatives like this available? TruKid is also a great choice because it’s easy to apply and doesn’t leave much of a white residue on the skin.