Want to really enjoy your day in the sun? Start by choosing the best sunblock out there so you don't have to worry about getting burned. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released its 2013 Guide to Sunscreens, which rates more than 1,400 sunscreens, lip balms, and SPF moisturizers and cosmetics for safety and effectiveness. And some of their findings might surprise you.
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The EWG report found that only 25 percent of products on the market offer both broad sun protection and low-risk chemical ingredients. "Consumers are understandably confused about sunscreens," Sonya Lunder, lead author of the EWG report, told Yahoo! Shine. "And, unfortunately, they are facing some bad choices."
While sunburns are caused mostly by relatively short but intense ultraviolet B rays, longer UVA rays, which penetrate the body more deeply, inflict more insidious damage and may contribute to or cause cancer. But all sunscreens are not equal in how effectively they protect against both types of rays, says the EWG.
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The FDA aimed to make that clearer when it put new sunscreen labeling rules into effect in 2012. One new requirement is for products to test and then label to identify sunscreens as "broad spectrum" if they protect well against both UVB and UVA rays. Those that don't must now carry a "skin cancer/skin aging alert" (although EWG says that the FDA standards on this are too low). Another requirement is that if a product claims to be water- resistant, it must say when, during sweating or swimming, the sunblock should be reapplied (for example, every 80 minutes).
But after analyzing 750 beach and sport sunscreens, EWG noted that the new FDA rules have not yet led to better sunscreens for 2013. "New rules, same old products," Lunder said. Still, learning to look past label claims and look carefully at ingredient lists can be a helpful way around the bad products. Below, the best and worst of what's currently on the market.:
EWG's List of Worst Sunscreens:
Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
Banana Boat Ultra Defense Max Skin Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
CVS Clear Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100
CVS Kids Wet & Dry Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70
Neutrogena Wet Skin Spray Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 85+
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 100+
Rite Aid Renewal Extreme Sport Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 70
Rite Aid Renewal Kids Wet Skin Continuous Spray Sunscreen SPF 70
EWG's List of Best Sunscreens (with average prices):
Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50 ($10)
CVS Baby Sun Lotion Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 50 ($8)
Sunbow Dora the Explorer Sunscreen, SPF 30 ($10)
Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 30 ($12)
Coral Safe Broad Spectrum Face Stick, SPF 30 ($8)
Jason Pure Natural Sun Mineral Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30 ($12)
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive, SPF 30+ ($20)
Tropical Sands Sunscreen, SPF 50 ($16)
Absolutely Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30 ($24)
Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Green Tea, SPF 30+ ($11)
So what does the EWG say should be avoided when you make your choice?
Sunscreen sprays or powders: Sprays and powders may pose serious inhalation risks — and also make it too easy to apply too little or to miss a spot, leaving tender skin exposed to dangerous rays.
SPF values above 50+: SPF refers only to protection against UVB radiation, not the potentially cancer-causing UVA rays. So a high- SPF number may trick you into staying in the sun too long, blocking sunburns but increasing the risk of other kinds of skin damage. The FDA is considering limiting SPF claims to 50+, as is done in other countries.
Dangerous ingredients: Avoid products that include oxybenzone (found in 80 percent of chemical sunscreens), which can penetrate the skin, cause allergic reactions, possibly disrupt hormones, and may have a link to a risk of endometriosis and low birth weights. And retinyl palmitate, meanwhile, a form of anti-oxidant vitamin A that has been said to slow skin aging, should be avoided because it's been found to possibly speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight. Safer options block sun with low-risk ingredients such as zinc oxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. Find a complete list of chemicals and their risks here.
Finally, to make sure you're truly protected when the sun's rays are at their strongest, EWG notes, don't completely rely on sun lotions; instead, when possible, wear clothes. Shirts, hats, shorts, and pants provide the best protection from UV rays—chemical-free.