It’s getting to be that time of the year again. The time when we throw out our long sleeves and leggings and exchange them for a short skirt and a tank top. And the place to be is anywhere outdoors. So if you’re smart, and you’re spending more than a short time outdoors, you’re also grabbing your sunscreen.
As someone with blue eyes and pale skin, I’m all too aware of the price to be paid when exposed skin sees too much sun. I had some bad burns as a little kid running amuck on the Florida beaches. I’ll be damned if I don’t do my best to protect myself now.
So is choosing a sunscreen as simple as 1) pick an appropriate SPF 2) Lather it on generously 3) repeat? Not necessarily. In fact, applying sunscreen is a much more complicated matter. And if you don’t do it right, you can cause more harm than good. So as we go into those liberating, fancy-free, frolic in the sun summer months, here’s a few things to keep in mind about sunscreen.
Don’t be fooled by high SPFs
Should you buy the first sunscreen you see that has SPF 80 or higher? The answer,according the The Environmental Working Group’s 2017 sunscreen report, is no. The Environmental Working Group is an American organization that helps people live healthier lives. And they know a thing or two about safe sunscreen. According to their scientific study. higher SPFs can be dangerous.
There is quite a bit the average person doesn’t understand about sunscreen. And this is why this information might seem confusing. Keep these things in mind when choosing an SPF:
SPF 100 doesn’t offer that much more protection than SPF 50.
You would think the protection would double. But that just isn’t the case. The added sun protection is minimal. And don’t be tempted to buy the higher SPF just to be safe. Because double SPF means double chemicals. And I’ll talk more about the problem with that in a minute. But first…
SPF doesn’t tell the whole story about a sun lotion’s protection level.
SPF refers only to a sunscreen’s ability to block ultraviolet B rays. These UVB rays cause sunburn and some skin cancers. But here’s the problem. The majority of US sunscreens don’t provide adequate protections against the extremely damaging ultraviolet A rays. UVA rays are more difficult to block, penetrate deeper into the skin, and are responsible for much more dangerous cancers like melanoma. And they don’t cause the skin to burn. So the highest SPF still has a huge gap in coverage, and you won’t see any physical signals . European sunscreens provide better UVA protection. But we’re still behind here in the US.
High SPF use gives consumers a false sense of protection.
The reality is that any day spent playing on the beach needs to include a good amount of shade. This is the only way to get true protection from UVA rays. Think big floppy hat, lounging under an umbrella, and hanging out the shade from a tree.
And don’t forget those toxic chemicals:
Remember I said I would talk more about the dangers of using a higher SPF? The average drugstore sunscreen is loaded with chemicals that can not only damage the skin, but cause endocrine imbalance. And the higher the SPF, the higher amount of dangerous chemicals. Plus remember that you’re only getting minimal extra protection with a higher SPF.
Endocrine disruptors in sunscreen can cause serious illness
We all have hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Many products used in the home, on the skin, and in makeup products are filled with chemicals that mimic these hormones. And these fake hormones can create an imbalance with our real hormones.
This puts us at risk for infertility, birth defects, and many hormone dependent cancers including breast and prostate. Endocrine disruptors are everywhere in modern life. And all of us should aspire to eliminate as many of them as possible.
Here are two very widespread active sunscreen ingredients that are toxic endocrine disruptors.
Experts also recommend staying away from the inactive ingredient, methylisothiazolinone, used in over 70% of sunscreens. It is a common allergen and toxic to many people
So what kind of sunscreen ingredients are better to use?
Here are the active ingredients you should seek in a sunscreen. You’ll most likely find these ingredients in sunscreens sold in health stores, but always read the label to be sure.
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium Dioxide
Check out The Environmental Working Group’s 2017 report
Did you want some great guidance on getting the best sunscreen without having to worry about doing deeper harm? Then check out their great report. They have lots of terrific information on safer sunscreen brands, keeper your kids safe, and everything else you wanted to know about staying safe in the sun. And this isn’t a sponsored post. I find this to be a great resource.
Remember, no sunscreen takes the place of good old fashioned shade. There isn’t a chemical that makes it safe to spend hours upon hours in direct sunlight. So be smart when spending time outdoors. Cross the street to walk in the shade. Wear a hat and carry an umbrella. (so you might look eccentric. Who cares?) And give yourself breaks by seeking shelter when possible.
I’ve got big plans for lots of fun this summer. And I love the beach. I’m just gonna make sure to show up responsibly, with safer SPF 30 sunscreen and a lot of shade. I hope you do too. Your future self will thank you!
Melanie Frost says
I did not realize that sunscreens can actually be dangerous! These are excellent tips and now I know what I need to look out for – especially for my kiddo.
I buy sun tan lotion for the children and me. My husband does not bother!
I clearly remember having sun burn on my chest 11 years ago in Dominican Republic. The pain of the shower water hitting my chest was awful.
Buying sunscreen has gotten so much more complicated than when I was a kid! Thanks for the tips!
Sona Sethi says
I use Banana Boat and coppertone. I am going to check right away on what are the contents of these sunsreens. Very informative post.
Amber Pilcher says
I had no idea about some of this sunscreen information – especially the part about high SPFs!
But I would advise people to put on sunscreen even in the shade and in the winter months.
Shoshana Sue says
Thanks for this info. I have always fallen to buying the higher SPF sunscreens, especially the times when I run outside a lot. Now I know better. Thank you for the education.
Erica, excellent info and perfect timing. There was a news article just the other day about sunscreen for children that actually caused burning. The photo I saw showed a baby with horrible inflamed face and even had blisters. So knowing what you’re putting on yourself and your children is ultra-important. I am going the check out the report by the Environmental Working Group (great group btw with all kinds of excellent info).
Thank you for the list of active ingredients we should be looking for in sunscreen! It is better to know what is good for us rather than not.
I’ve always been a sucker for high SPFs! Thank you for this. I had no idea some of the ingredients in sunscreen were toxic!
Melissa @ Think About Such Things says
I’m tempted to make my own sunscreen this summer. I hate all the chemicals these big companies put in our stuff. Makes me mad! And good tip on the how higher SPF doesn’t protect you more.
Proper sun care is so important. It’s hot in Arizona and my Italian husband has given my daughters gorgeous tan skin so sometimes they forget just because they don’t look sunburnt they don’t need sunscreen. They always need sunscreen!
Oh wow, what an informative post! I’m someone who always looks to buy sunscreen with the highest SPF but now I’ll know there are other more important things to look for!
Angie Rose says
This is such a helpful post. I’m a gardener, and sun protection is so important when you are outdoors all the time. I use some sunscreen, wear hats, protective clothing and umbrellas are a big help. I even purchased a pop up tent for the beach! Works wonders 🙂
Doreen Pendgracs says
This is a wonderful post. A few years ago while in Hawaii, I had brought a tube of Banana Boat sunscreen. There is something so toxic in it that it ate the paper of something is leaked onto in my suitcase! I will never use that brand again.
I now very carefully read the labels on all products and look for those toxic ingredients that can do far more harm than good.
Chelsea Damon says
I heard once that there isn’t much spf protection over 50, it just might last longer. Petty disappointed in deceitful marketing tactics suncreen companies use!
Marquita Herald says
I’ve also got that pale (red head) skin and blue eyes so I’m all too familiar with the dangers of sunburn. When we moved to Hawaii we spent a LOT of time camping and hiking and most of our friends baked in the sun to maintain the darkest tans possible. I opted for shade, sunscreen, and a hat. They made fun of me then, but now they are all deeply wrinkled and two of them had bouts of skin cancer. Bummer!
RoseMary Griffith says
Thank you so much for this post, goes along with my “Wear a Hat,” to avoid getting burnt. Oh my recent trip to Italy, I lost my spf hat 4 days before coming home. I was ducking sun left and right and wishing I had a parasol!
Our supply consists of two kinds of Banana Boat–neither has the bad ingredients, but neither do they have the good ingredients. I’ve added that to my shopping list. I spend a ton of time doing yardwork in the summer and am as careful as possible, but I sure do rely on sunscreen.
Rebecca Brianne says
I must say I’ve been on the more foolish side when it comes to sunscreen! I didn’t really have a problem burning when I was younger so I never applied it. I have realized the older I get, the more sensitive I have become! I really need to adopt applying a sunscreen and make it part of my daily routine in the summer.
William Rusho says
I inherited my Irish mother’s skin, which means I can burn from a strong light bulb.
Sunscreen is supposed to be good for us, but also is dangerous.
I guess maybe sometimes, it is more important for a company to make profit, then a product which is healthy and good for you. Thank you for sharing this with us, I will definitely read the labels now.
Unfortunately, I am in Winter now down here in Australia though these sunscreen tips will be very very useful in the Aussie heat. I always tend to rely on high SPF to tell me how protective a sunscreen is but now I know better. I always do try to bring an umbrella and hat for extra protection though.
Jeannette Paladino says
Erica –Thanks for this highly valuable post. I knew that higher numbered SPF didn’t work any better but I wasn’t aware of the increased toxicity. I plan to share your post with friends. This falls into the category of fabric softeners used in the laundry. They, too, are filled with toxic chemicals and should be avoided.