Healthy sun exposure can be tricky: too little sun can result in vitamin D deficiency and too much increases your risk of melanoma (skin cancer). Unfortunately, sunscreen isn’t a perfect answer to this problem. In fact, most sunscreens on the market come with poorly-researched, risky, or downright ineffective ingredients. In an attempt to partially fix this, the FDA’s most recent recommendation would change the formulations of ~25% of sunscreens currently found on U.S. shelves. Until then, though, it’s up to the buyer to be extra aware of what’s in their sun product of choice. Read on for sun safety tips, tricks, and product picks.
Since there is little evidence that sunscreen by itself protects against skin cancer, here are a few more sun safety tips…
- Cover up: One easy way to avoid sunburn is to simply cover more skin. A hat is always a good idea.
- Plan around the sun: Spending more of your outside time before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. will avoid sun exposure during the time of day when ultraviolet (UV) radiation is at its peak.
- Check the UV index: To control your UV exposure, it’s a good idea to check the UV index. You can check UV using the Environmental Protection Agency’s online search or using a weather app of your choice.
- Find (or make) shade: While you are still exposed to some UV in the shade, shade remains a great way to enjoy the outdoors with a bit more natural protection.
- Wear sunglasses: Everyone knows the sun can burn you skin, but it turns out UV radiation can damage your eyes, too!
When choosing a sunscreen…
- Approved active ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium oxide, avobenzone, mexoryl SX are safe and fairly well-tested ingredients.
- Form: Cream, stick, or non-aerated spray will prevent you from breathing sunscreen particles in.
- Claims: Broad-spectrum, water-resistant, safe, and hypoallergenic are all good terms to see on a sunscreen product.
- SPF (Sun Protection Factor): Look for 15-50, depending on how long you plan on being in the sun, how strong the sun is, and how easily you tend to burn. If it would take you 20 minutes to burn unprotected, multiply this by the SPF of your sunscreen to get the total number of minutes your sunscreen will be effect for (assuming it stays on). As an example, 20 minutes x SPF 15 = 300 minutes (~4 hours) of protection.
- Expiration date: Make sure your sunscreen is unexpired and has a consistent texture. Chances are if it has separated into multiple different textures, it has partially broken down and won’t do its job.
- Harmful active ingredients: Namely oxybenzone (aka benzophenone-3, BP-3), which CDC (Center for Disease Control) researchers found in ~97% of 2,500 human urine samples. In rats, oxybenzone exposure has estrogen-like effects and as a result has interfered with sperm counts and male development. Oxybenzone may also be partially responsible for altered birth weights in humans and coral reef bleaching. However, more research on oxybenzone is still required, as results have been mixed. Because of its potential risks, you won’t find any oxybenzone-containing sunscreen in the Fitness Formulary marketplace. Other more poorly researched compounds include homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, and octocrylene, which may also harm sperm function.
- Nanoparticles: This one is a low priority, because it’s rare to find sunscreens that disclose their particle size. And, nanoparticles are likely safe, though more research is needed. The potential issues associated with nano particles exist because of their teeny tiny size, which likely makes them absorbable.
6+ Safe Sunscreens
All of the selected sunscreens (except for the non-mineral option that is #6) have the highest possible safety rating from EWG. This means not only are they in the green zone in terms of safety risk, they’re given a 1/10 on the risk scale. Product images are clickable for your convenience.
1. BurnOut Ocean Tested Physical Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
Zinc oxide is the gold standard of active ingredients. It’s chemical-free, provides UVA/ UVB broad spectrum protection, and is less irritating than titanium dioxide. BurnOut takes the zinc oxide active ingredient even farther by using high-quality Eco-Cert zinc oxide. Their sunscreen contains no nanoparticles, is reef safe, and petroleum/paraben-free. They don’t test on animals, either. To make their sunscreen extra moisturizing, their products also contain virgin hemp seed oil, aloe vera, and antioxidant vitamins.
2. Thinksport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50+
All of thinksport’s sunscreens are free of paba, parabens, phthalates, bpa, oxybenzone, avobenzone, petroleum, dioxane, toxic chemicals and animal products. Thinksport sunscreens also have broad spectrum protection from UVA/UVB and are cruelty-free. Their standard formula is mineral-based, making them a safe and proven choice. There’s a stick version too, if you prefer that.
3. Goddess Garden Daily Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, Sheer, SPF 30
Certified-organic and full of hydrating plant-based nutrients, this sunscreen also contains non-nano zinc and offers ultra-sheer broad-spectrum protection. It’s gentle on the reefs, the environment in general, and on sensitive skin. Goddess Garden’s formulas are all 100% biodegradable and filled with nourishing organic ingredients like aloe vera and sunflower oil.
Babo Botanicals have a strong following, and for good reason. These zinc oxide based sunscreens boast a ton of pure, natural, and nourishing ingredients like beeswax, bisabolol, shea butter, candelilla wax, jojoba esters, rice bran oil, avocado oil and cocoa seed butter. This ultra sheer formula is water and sweat resistant for 80 minutes.
5. Thinkbaby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50+
Consistently receiving high reviews and topping the rankings of many magazines, thinksport’s thinkbaby line has been Top Rated by EWG with a “1” rating since 2010. They have the highest level of biodegradability (OECD 301B Testing), contain non-nano zinc oxide (average particle size >100 micron), and have an especially neutral smell. In terms of effectiveness, this sunscreen has the highest FDA-approved SPF and water resistance times allowed (80 minutes).
6. Alba Botanica sensitive sunscreen SPF 30
While any non-mineral sunscreen can’t receive a full green light from the EWG at the moment, the EWG still ranks Alba Botanica’s products as among the best non-mineral options. If you prefer your sunscreen to have a fragrance, it also comes in a lavender version with an extra boost of antioxidant rich green tea, vitamin e, and aloe vera. This product contains no artificial colors, parabens, phthalates, or harsh sulfates. Similarly to the other sunscreens on this list, Alba Botanica’s biodegradable sunscreen contains 100% vegetarian ingredients, is not tested on animals, and is coral reef safe.