Sharpen Your Sunscreen Savvy

Guest blog by Laura Klein, publisher of

There’s so much to say about sunscreen—beyond how essential it is.

That’s because the ingredients in countless conventional sunscreen products are astonishingly bad for our health. All you have to do is read Environmental Working Group’s report and guides on sunscreens to uncover the truth. In fact, the best sunscreen, they say, is a hat, shirt, and shade.

So it’s time to sharpen up your sunscreen skill, so that you and your family can slather on healthy SPF with confidence!

FDA: Out of Touch

EWG, an environmental watchdog group, places the fault of ineffective and unhealthy sunscreen squarely on the shoulders of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency never finalized the sunscreen regulations it started in 1978.

EWG’s savvy sleuthing also reveals that there is no consensus that sunscreen prevents cancer. The FDA’s 2007 draft of sunscreen regulations states, “FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer.”

Furthermore, the EWG and countless other experts note how far behind the United States is compared to European sunscreen development. U.S. sunscreen makers are still waiting for FDA approval on a wider array of ingredients to use that offer better protection and are already being used in the European Union.

Until these sunscreen safety standards are set, it’s up to you to be your own advocate. Here’s a quick snapshot on how to shop smart for sunscreen.

What to Avoid in Sunscreens

Vitamin A or retinyl palmitate. Surprisingly, new data from the government shows that slathering vitamin A on your skin can promote the development of tumors and lesions more quickly, compared to skin not coated with vitamin A. This vitamin is found in 41 percent of sunscreens, so read your labels; it may be listed as retinyl palmitate.

Oxybenzone. This ingredient is linked to hormone problems. It is a synthetic estrogen, and is potentially a harmful endocrine disruptor that contaminates the human body.

Bug repellent. Avoid sunscreen that contains insect repellent; it’s just more chemicals soaking into your skin.

Sprays and powders. They can pollute the air with tiny stuff and particles that aren’t healthy for you or your family to breathe! Creams are simply a healthier choice.

What to look for in healthy sunscreens:
Creams only, no sprays or powders.

Broad-spectrum coverage. “Broad-spectrum” sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Zinc or titanium minerals. Buy at least 7 percent zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for broad-spectrum protection.

Water resistance for pool, beach, and use during exercise.

Stability in sunlight. A lack of stability means that UV radiation permeates the skin.

Few, if any, ingredients that have significant known or suspected health hazards. Think parabens, oxybenzone, vitamin A, bug repellent.

Other Sunscreen Tips

• Buy new sunscreen every year, and make it 30 SPF.

• Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going outside.

• Protect yourself from 93 percent of the sun’s rays with SPF 15.

• Protect yourself from 97 percent of the sun’s rays with SPF 30.

• Reapply sunscreen every one to two hours, regardless of what the label says.

• Avoid midday sun, between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• Wear sunscreen all year. Skiers and winter sports enthusiasts are at high risk of UVA ray exposure, which is more damaging at higher elevations.

• Consider UPF-labeled clothing: Certain clothes offer an “ultraviolet protection factor.” According to, a fabric with a rating of 50 will allow only one-fiftieth of the sun’s UV rays to pass through.

• Avoid tanning parlors: The UV radiation can be as much as 15 times that of the sun!

• Avoid self-tanners: The major self-tanning chemical, dihydroxyacetone, is not FDA-approved for use in cosmetics around the eyes.

• Ready to buy new sunscreen? Check out EWG’s 2010 Sunscreen Guide. The group even has a shopper’s guide to do the work for you.

About the author: Laura Klein is the publisher of and loves to chat about organic food, ecofriendly stuff, and healthy recipes! Laura loves social media: You can find and chat with her on Twitter, StumbleUpon, and Facebook. Please feel free to say hello!


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12 Responses to Sharpen Your Sunscreen Savvy

  1. Maya June 22, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    Wow–I thought I was a saavy cosmetics/sunscreen shopper and after reading this I’m going to chuck one of the sunscreens I had been using! Thanks!

  2. Maya June 22, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Ok, follow up Q: any tips on disposal of product containing some of those bad ingredients?

  3. jennifer June 22, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    Where can I find UFP labelled clothing?

  4. Jill June 22, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    Whew. I’ve been using California Baby on all of us for years; it was the only one we found that didn’t give my daughter a rash or make my face sting. I’m glad I listened to our skin.

  5. Jean Nick a.k.a. Rodale's Nickel Pincher June 22, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    I’ve been a devoted fan of Solumbra clothing for 15 years. The fabric is soft and wears like iron, and the garments are cut generously. It isn’t cheap, but I’ve tried less expensive brands of sun protective clothing and been disappointed by the feel, fit, and lifespan. You can find Solumbra at www dot sunprecautions dot com. Tops turn up pretty regularly on eBay; bottoms not so much. My fav is the “super athlete shirt” which has lots of ventilation and a roomy fit — I never go outside between about 9 am and 5 pm to work in my garden or on the farm without one of my trusty shirts and a good big hat — my fav hat is a Sunday Afternoons Adventure www dot sundayafternoons dot com which protects the back of my neck and stays on in even the stiffest breeze. Compared with the cost of sunscreen over the course of a few years I figure I come out ahead with clothing, even at full retail price. Besides I hate the feel of sweaty sunscreened skin, spending time slathering it on, and wondering what’s in it that’s probably bad for me. Oh, and be sure to pass up any sun-protective clothing that is impregnated with insect repellant! Nasty stuff.

  6. Erin June 22, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    I had heard about retinyl palmitate and nano-sized chemical addtitives being terrible for use on the skin, so I’ve been avoiding sunscreen products containing them. Skinsceuticals Physical Defense #50 lotion is GREAT for the face, but way too expensive to use on my whole body. The list from the EWG is a wonderful reference, so now I’ll use one of those with a high rating. But I had NEVER heard that self tanner is also bad. I’ve been feeling so proud of myself for staying out of the real sun, and now, alas, I’m destined to pasty beigeness one again.

  7. Donna in Delaware June 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    The EWG website is awsome. I have been a registered member for a short while now and the website is so informative. Everyone and anyone who cares about products and the environment should register with the website. They keep you updated on everything that is going on with the enviroment, products, personal care products, perfumes and cosmetics, etc and everything is usually rated for the comsumers protection. It is well worth it. Not to scare anyone off, but they also need funding by the public and usually ask for a small stipend to keep them up and running. It is up to the indiviual, of course, but IT IS WORTH THE SMALL ASKING PRICE!

  8. Donna in Delaware June 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm #


    Solumbra have great clothing. I still have 2 hats that I purchased in the 80’s because my skin, especiall my face is sun sensitive and heat sensitive,(I can turn dark just from heat) I wear these hats all of the time and sometimes in the winter. The had great clothing for sun protection also.

  9. Donna in Delaware June 22, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    Excuse my errors please. I’m rushing.

  10. Valerie Jacobs October 13, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    I thought all sunscreen was basically the same except for the price. Thanks for the great info! Here’s a source to check the UV index in your area.

  11. Nancy Davidson November 26, 2010 at 1:13 am #

    I love the EWG website. I am a concerned mom and always check out what is going on. I only use Arbonne products for my family. They are so safe and natural that the my daughters eczema has become almost non-existent. When it does rear itself it is controlled and disappears in 2-3 days with their creams. My husband and youngest daughter are allergic to most things, I find the Arbonne ABC Wash and Sunscreen with a SPF of 30 do not irritate them at all. The sunscreen is thick and creamy and really works. My baby is the proof.
    She is as white in the beginning of summer as in the end. I love what the products have been able to do for my family and myself so much that I joined the company to get a discount on the products and with sharing them I started to work part time. The gift of these products means no harmful chemicals from shampoo, washes or sunscreens go into my family. Thank you Arbonne. If you want to see more about these products or ingredients you can visit my website at

  12. I’ll immediately grasp your rss as I can not in finding your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please let me understand so that I may just subscribe. Thanks.

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