Sunscreens are a non-negotiable. Consistent use of sunscreen reduces the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. This is not news. What is news, and has been making waves this summer is the confusion and uncertainty surrounding sunscreens, the safety of their use and the truth in their claims of protection. There is a lot of information out there, both accurate and inaccurate. Each summer, best and worst lists hit the Internet, like this “Hall of Shame” article from the Environmental Wellness Group, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting both the environment and human health. According to this report, many of the most popular, accessible sunscreens don’t pass muster. But let’s be clear: it’s not rocket science. Here are the facts to keep in mind when choosing a sunscreen.
UVA/UVB: Ultraviolet rays A and B impact the skin in different ways, so you’ll want to be sure your sunscreen provides “broad spectrum” protection. WebMD.com outlines several key differentiators between UVA and UVB rays. For example, UVA is “not affected by a change in altitude or weather” and is present all day, everyday. UVB rays, on the other hand, are more intense in the middle of the day, in the summer and in higher altitude. Also note it is UVB rays that both provide Vitamin D and causing burning and tanning.
SPF: This acronym stands for “sun protection factor.” The higher the SPF, the greater the sun protection right? Sort of. While SPF 30 provides longer, not stronger, protection than SPF 4, the level of protection plateaus. EWG reports that “SPF protection tops out at 30 to 50”. It may not make sense to pay extra, or place additional value in SPF protection over 50. Think of SPF in terms of time, not strength.
A few brands recommended by the EWG include Coola (available at Ulta), Burt’s Bees (available at Walmart, Target and numerous other retailers) and BullFrog. For a complete list of the EWG’s best sunscreens, check out their list of Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens and their list of Best Moisturizers with SPF. Also have a look at Allure’s list of their favorite chemical-free sunscreen options.
You don’t need a PhD to protect your skin. The size and scope of information regarding sunscreen safety may be confusing and new studies are coming out left and right but it doesn’t have to be a deal. Broad spectrum protection and SPF are the two most important factors in protecting yourself from sun damage, aging and skin cancer. Keep that in mind and you’ll find the right sun protection for you and your needs.