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  • Dr. Jenny Henderson, ND

The 4 Steps to Choosing a Safe Sunscreen

The 4 Steps to Choosing a Safe Sunscreen

Summer can seem much too short, so it’s certainly tempting to spend as much time outside basking in the sunshine, and for good reason too. The sun elevates our mood, warms our bodies, and provides us with much needed vitamin D. Some interesting new research is talking about better health and lifespans in people who don’t avoid the sun. The flip side is that excessive exposure can also burn the skin, increase the risk of skin cancers, and accelerate aging (think of those leathery sun-worshippers).

So what on earth are we supposed to do? Well the short answer seems to be moderation (isn’t it always?). Don’t avoid the sun altogether, but if you’ll be in it for a while, definitely protect yourself with a safe sunscreen. Not all sunscreens are created equal however, so here’s a handy guide on how to choose a good one based on info available from the Environmental Working Group.

1. SPF (sun protection factor)

The SPF tells you how many minutes you can be exposed to UVB rays without burning. It doesn’t necessarily apply to UVA rays, which are also damaging. It might seem tempting to get the highest SPF rating, but anything above 30 or 50 is not any more beneficial – you should reapply often anyway, especially after sweating and swimming.

2. Ingredients

Studies are revealing that the old-school chemicals that are put in most generic sunscreens are harmful the body. The worst offender is oxybenzone, which can penetrate the skin and interfere with hormones. Though the research is not too robust yet, I suggesting to avoid it.

Instead, opt for products whose active ingredients are the minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Remember when people sat on the beach with white paste on their noses? That’s zinc oxide. Mineral formulas do not penetrate the skin, have no evidence of hormone disruption, and offer the best sun protection by completely blocking UV rays (A and B). Modern formulas are designed to blend invisibly into the skin, so you won’t be covered in a white paste.

3. Format

Stick to creams. Spray-on sunscreens are more expensive, finish fast, are wasteful, and worst of all, inhalable. If it’s not good on the skin, it will be worse in your lungs. Some safe brands are now doing pump bottles for a bit more convenience.

4. Vitamin A

If you see vitamin A or retinyl palmitate in the ingredients, avoid that brand. Vitamin A is good for the skin so long as it’s not exposed to sunlight. Once it is, it can form free radicals that damage living cells.

The EWG website lists brands that are considered the safest. You can also do your own browsing at the store now that you know what to look for.

Happy sunning!


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