Have you ever found yourself staring at a shelf of different sunscreen products wondering which one is the best? Does “SPF” mean, “Some-People-Forget” or “Sunburn-Pain-Factor”? That can’t be it. But with so many choices, many people find themselves resorting to “Which one smells best?” as a way of choosing a product. It is not the best method and definitely not an informed decision for something you are using to protect yourself.
Thankfully, Inspired Nutrition has compiled a list of the best, healthiest and least expensive sunscreens available. Bring on the sunshine!
Environmental Working Group (EWG), a “Consumer Report” type organization, has researched this extensively and has released it’s 2017 “11th Annual Analysis of Sunscreens”. It covers hazard and efficacy ratings for almost 1,500 products, including:
- 880 sunscreens,
- 480 SPF-labeled moisturizers, and
- 120 lip balm
The ratings are a compilation of industry, government and data sources – along with the models they constructed over the past 11 years. (Their database is available at www.ewg.org/skindeep).
The products are rated on five factors:
- Health hazards – of ingredients based on toxicity databases.
- UVB – short rays, responsible for sunburns.
- UVA – long rays that penetrate deep into the skin.
- Ratio – the balance of UVA absorbance to SPF.
- Stability – ingredients breaking down in the sun.
Many of you might like to look through some of the basic Q&A information below first – or return to it later, as a source. Here is a link for those who want to go directly to our list of the Top Rated Sunscreen Products.
Q & A – Sunscreens: How they Work, What it Means
- What does SPF mean?
- Which sunscreens are best and why?
- What is the difference between mineral and non-mineral sunscreen?
- Doesn’t the government ensure that sunscreens protect us?
- Which sunscreens are best for children?
- How much sunscreen is enough and how often should I reapply?
- Will sunscreen protect me from cancer and wrinkling?
- How do sunscreens work?
- Why shouldn’t I use sunscreen sprays and powders?
- What about products that combine sunscreen with bug repellent?
- I am using a good quality sunscreen with SPF 50, so why do I still get burned?
- Should I be concerned about Vitamin A in my sunscreen?
What does “SPF” mean?
SPF stands for Sun-Protection-Factor, ratings can be confusing or misleading. People rarely apply enough sunscreen to achieve the labeled SPF. The numbers do not reflect UVA protection. UVA protection in American sunscreens maxes out at about 15 to 20. Higher SPF products will not offer proportionally higher protection. More important than ultra-high SPF numbers is to apply sunscreen generously.
Which sunscreens are best and why?
An ideal sunscreen would block the majority of UVA and UVB rays with active ingredients that do not break down in the sun, so that the product remains effective. It would also contain only active and inactive ingredients that are proven to be completely safe for both adults and children. Sunscreens on the U.S. market do not meet all these criteria and sunscreens can only provide partial protection against the harmful effects of the sun. That’s why EWG created this guide to safer and more effective sunscreens.
What is the difference between mineral and non-mineral sunscreens?
Mineral-based sunscreens, generally, contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (which are broad spectrum, meaning they protect against both UVA and UVB rays) and works by sitting on top of the skin deflecting the sun’s rays. While the non-mineral sunscreens are more likely to contain potential hormone disruptors and less likely to protect against harmful UVA rays.
Doesn’t the government ensure that sunscreens protect us?
No. The FDA allows American sunscreen makers to claim their products are “broad spectrum,” even though many offer much poorer UVA protection than sunscreens sold in other countries. EWG estimates that half of all beach and sports sunscreens could not be sold in Europe because they provide inadequate UVA protection. FDA rules do not ban products with sky-high SPFs that prevent sunburn but leave users at risk of UVA-related skin damage.
Which sunscreens are best for children?
Since kids are more vulnerable to damage caused by the sun and to the harmful effects of chemical exposure, they should use a sunscreen rated highly for safety and effective protection from UVA and UVB radiation. Apply sunscreen generously before children go outside, and reapply it often. Infants under six months need special protection (they do not yet have protective melanin proteins).
How much sunscreen is enough and how often should I reapply?
Apply it 30 minutes before going outside and at least every two hours thereafter. Reapply it after being in the water, sweating a lot or towel drying. Don’t skimp on sunscreen.
Will sunscreen protect me from cancer and wrinkling?
All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but only some protect against UVA. Many American sunscreens bear labels that boast “broad spectrum” protection, but their UVA protection is often inadequate. SPF values tell you little about UVA protection. The FDA’s rules for broad-spectrum sunscreens are too weak. In 2017, EWG estimated that 99 percent of all sunscreens on the market could legally use the “broad spectrum” label even though many provide inadequate UVA protection.
How do sunscreens work?
The active ingredients in sunscreens absorb, reflect or scatter ultraviolet radiation, changing the skin’s response to sunlight. Some chemicals work better than others, as do some combinations of active ingredients. Many American sunscreens lack strong UVA protection, due to weak rules and restrictions on available ingredients.
Why shouldn’t I use sunscreen sprays and powders?
EWG does not recommend powder and spray sunscreens because of concerns about inhalation – especially in powdered sunscreens and makeup products. If you want the benefits of a mineral sunscreen, choose a zinc- or titanium-based lotion. (If you use a pump or spray sunscreen, simply avoid inhalation and applying it to your hands to wipe on your face.
What about products that combine sunscreen with bug repellent?
It’s wise to avoid using repellent chemicals on your face. Most worrisome, sunscreens often contain penetration enhancers which help chemicals soak into the skin. Studies indicate that concurrent use of sunscreens and pesticides leads to increased skin absorption of pesticides.
I am using a SPF 50, and still get burned?
Proper use means that you apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before being exposed to the sun and you reapply it frequently. Reapply every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Many studies show that consumers apply only a quarter to half the recommended amount of lotion.
Should I be concerned about vitamin A in my sunscreen?
EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreen with vitamin A, also called “retinyl palmitate” on the label. Data from a study by scientists showed that retinyl palmitate may speed the growth of skin tumors when applied to skin in the presence of sunlight. The German and Norwegian governments have warned that many people are exposed to excessive amounts of vitamin A and that personal care products contribute to this problem. People who want to limit their exposure to vitamin A should avoid retinyl palmitate, retinoic acid, retinyl lineolate and retinyl acetate in sunscreens, lotions, lip products and other leave-on cosmetics until more information is available about their safety on skin.
Here is a link for those who want to go directly to our list of the Top Rated Sunscreen Products 2017.