Worry-Free Sunscreen Shopping: What You Need to Know

4 min read

The temps are rising, the vacations are planned and a fun-loving summer awaits. Until you’re two days away from that blissful vaca and realize that you haven’t stocked up on sunscreen. We can help: Here’s your worry-free guide to sunscreen shopping this summer.

Why Should I Even Wear Sunscreen?

According to the National Cancer Institute, the rate of new melanoma cases among American adults has tripled since the 1970s. The U.S. government has also officially identified ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun (and from tanning machines) as a known cause of cancer in humans—and if the government is officially stating it, you know it must be serious.

If that’s not incentive enough, spending hours catching rays is one of the easiest ways to age your skin (do we need to revisit this truck driver?). An angry sunburn, which is actually the body’s auto-immune response to UVR damage, is believed by the Skin Cancer Foundation to be more closely associated with melanoma than chronic sun exposure. What does that mean? That one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of melanoma later in life; five sunburns by any age doubles the risk as well.

While we all could use a little more vitamin D in our lives, sitting in the sun unprotected for longer than 15 minutes is clearly taking a gamble with your skin’s health.

What Does an SPF Number Really Mean?

Contrary to popular belief (and lots of marketing), a sunscreen with a higher SPF (sun-protection factor) doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely safe from the sun’s rays. Ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth in the form of both UVB and UVA rays, and “SPF” refers mainly to the amount of UVB protection a sunscreen offers.

But as a topical sunscreen gets higher in SPF, it actually only offers a minimal increase in UVB protection, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks about 93 percent of UVB radiation, while an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks nearly 97 percent—but SPF 50 only increases the blockage to 98 percent.

Plus, an SPF doesn’t measure the UVA rays it’s blocking, and these are the rays more commonly linked to sun damage. So you might not get burned, but you could see your skin damaged by continual exposure.

To combat this, you want to ensure you’re choosing a broad- or full-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVB and UVA rays. Sunscreen that contains ingredients that create physical mineral barriers, like zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide, are your best bet.

Why Shouldn’t I Buy Banana Boat?

Reading the labels on your products doesn’t stop with face wash and mascara: Learning what ingredients are potentially harmful in sunscreen can help prevent additional health issues and keep your family safe.

When you turn your bottle of sunblock over and take a gander at the “active ingredients,” you want to keep an eye out for chemical filters that have been shown in laboratory studies to potentially mimic hormones, and are linked to skin allergies. Most traditional sunscreens include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These, and especially oxybenzone, are the ones to avoid, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The “inactive ingredients” list is just as important. In here can be hiding some of the big no-nos, like parabens, silicones, synthetic fragrances, petroleum, retinyl plamitate, triethanolamine, benzyl alcohol, PEGs and phenoxyethanol. Selecting a sunscreen that contains natural and clean ingredients (botanicals, oils, butters and essential oils) can give you more peace of mind that what you’re slathering on your body all summer isn’t harmful to your health.

What Broad-Spectrum Mineral Sunscreens Actually Work?

Glad you asked. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites, for a range of activities (because you don’t want to swipe zinc on your face and look like a ghost going to to work, nor do you want to hit the beach with a low SPF).

  1. For Everyday Wear: Kari Gran Three Sixty Five SPF 28
  2. For Beach Days: Babo Naturals Daily Sheer Facial Sunscreen SPF 40
  3. For Travel + Kiddos: Coola Mineral Baby SPF 50 Unscented Sunscreen Stick
  4. For Really Sensitive Skin: Juice Beauty Oil-Free SPF 30 Moisturizer
  5. For Combating Sun Damage: Laurel Whole Plant Organics Body Oil: Sun: Before & After

About The Author

Nicolle Mackinnon

Nicolle Mackinnon

Stemming from her personal journey to treat her celiac disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Nicolle serves as a writer and editor for several leading publications helping women understand how important, stylish and fun it is to commit to clean beauty. By way of her contributions to No More Dirty Looks, Thoughtfully Magazine and numerous beauty brands' blogs, websites and social media, Nicolle has become a trusted voice on the correlation between health and beauty. Follow her journey on Instagram and connect with her via nicollemackinnon.com.



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