Sunscreen seems like one of those things that should be a simple affair: remember to put it on before you go out in the sun, remember to re-apply it every so often.
Yet with skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the US — and melanoma, the most serious kind, being extremely deadly if not caught early — clearly we aren’t doing a good enough job protecting ourselves from the sun.
Further complicating things is the fact that some sunscreens are better or safer than others. Some work more or less as advertised, others don’t live up to their high-SPF billing. Some even contain potentially risky chemicals.
To help make your sunscreen choices easier and safer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their 11th annual Guide to Sunscreens.
On the guide’s website, you can find the best and worst sunscreens for sports and for kids, you can look at the best moisturizers with SPF, and you can see if the brand of sunscreen you have lying around is highly rated.
While we recommend searching to check your sunscreen out, here are a few useful sunscreen facts to help you select a safe option.
- Try to select “broad spectrum” sunscreen with at least 30 SPF: SPF is just a measure of UVB protection. In theory, broad spectrum sunscreens should protect equally against UVB and UVA rays, though the EWG says that US standards are fairly weak — that about half of sunscreens sold in the US could not be sold in Europe.
- Higher SPF values are misleading: SPF values of above 50 are essentially meaningless, often not living up to their billing and not offering the protection consumers would think they do. SPF 100 is not actually twice as good as SPF 50, and most tests show no added benefit.
- Don’t spray: As popular as spray sunscreens are, there are concerns that they don’t provide as effective protection and there may be a risk from inhaling the spray.
- Ingredients matter: The EWG says that consumers should avoid certain common sunscreen ingredients. The FDA considers oxybenzone safe, but the EWG says there’s worrisome evidence that it could act as a hormone disruptor. And there’s some evidence that retinyl palmitate (a form of Vitamin A commonly added to sunscreen) could increase skin cancer rates. Sunscreens with mineral filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally highly rated by the EWG.
Finally, remember to put enough sunscreen on. The average adult should use about enough to fill a shot glass every time they coat themselves up.
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