Sunscreen is a great way to prevent burning and the harmful effects of some UV rays. However, there are some things about sunscreen that you should know before the next time you slather it on.
Here are 10 Super Helpful Sunscreen Safety Tips to help you enjoy the summer sun without getting burned in more than one way.
It's that time of the year -- the sun is coming out, and families are spending more time at the pool, the beach, on vacation, and just outside in general.
Along with more time outdoors comes more time in the sun which can lead to overexposure. As such, sunscreen is a great tool to use, but does it matter what sunscreen you use?
Hint: It does.
When I was young, I was out in the sun WAY too much. I would tan and tan and tan--and as a result spent years where I was really did everything I could to just stay out of the sun completely.
Is the Sun Good for You?
There is some evidence coming out that the sun actually being good for you.
Now, I'm not advocating slathering a bunch of baby oil on and baking (like someone who will not be named did on occasion [ahem]), but I do think that getting outdoors is great. Personally I try to get out between the hours of 10 and 2 for about 15 minutes every day.
In addition to that, I allow myself to get a little bit of sun (emphasis on "little"), and don't use sunscreen most of the time, especially after I have some color on my skin. However, I for sure don't want to burn, so sunscreen is something I always have around--and you should too.
Following are some things to keep in mind as you spend more time in the summer sun to help you have a healthier sunny summer experience.
1. Skip the Spray
While spraying your sunscreen on might seem like a convenient and fun way for your kids (and yourself) to put sun protection on, it might not be the best thing to do for your health--or theirs.
Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are typical physical sunscreen non-toxic ingredients used in sunscreens, and these are considered to be safe when applied to skin, but the inhalation of these ingredients is considered to be a health hazard.
Actually, titanium dioxide has (after the initial publishing of this post) recently been in the news as being not as non-toxic as originally thought. (source)
This post on spray sunscreen dangers gets into more details about the concerns regarding spray sunscreen that will make you think twice about using it, or at least will help you choose and use wisely.
2. Lower SPF Might Be Better
Did you know that SPF only measures protection from UVB rays - the ones that will cause you to burn?!
But the UVA rays are the ones that cause skin cancer and a higher SPF will not give you extra protection from those rays. You'll be likely tempted to use a high SPF sunscreen, thinking that you can only apply it once and have all the protection you need. Instead, choose a lower SPF with broad spectrum coverage and definitely look to zinc oxide to address UVA rays.
3. Skip the Retinyl Palmitate
Retinyl Palmitate (derived from Vitamin A) is often added to sunscreens to reduce the appearance of aging. However, it offers no sun protection so it's not really a necessary ingredient at all.
There is some research suggesting a connection between retinyl palmitate and skin cancer in lab tests on mice. Not something I want on my skin!
4. Use Sunscreen When Cloudy
Clouds only block 20% of the sun's rays (and that's not a lot!), so if you are going to be out in the summer, you'll need protection even if it's cloudy.
5. Repeat Application
The best protection, if you are going to be out in the sun for a long time, is to reapply. Some say sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours but it definitely needs to be reapplied after swimming, toweling off, showering or strenuous exercise (aka sweating).
6. Apply at Least 15 Minutes Before Going Out
Don't wait until you're in the sun to apply your sunscreen. The sunscreen needs time to sink in or bind to your skin so it can work well.
7. Patch Test
Always do a patch test on the inside of your arm to make sure you aren't sensitive to the ingredients before going out in the sun. The sun's rays might intensify any reaction so better to be safe than sorry!
8. Apply Evenly
Do your best to apply the same thickness all over your body and don't miss "easy to miss" spots like backs of knees, ears, scalp, neck, face. Do skip eyes and lips, however unless your product is specifically meant to go on the lips.
9. Skip Chemical Sunscreens
Instead of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are physical sunblocks, chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate are often the ingredients used in popular brands.
I'm not a fan of those as they have been linked to all kinds of health problems (source). Choosing a physical sunblock like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide is a better choice for many reasons.
10. Choose Reef Safe
Though this isn't directly related to your health, indirectly it is. Choosing a reef safe sunscreen will benefit the environment and our delicate ecosytem and the health of all in the long term so choose better.
Make sure to really read the labels of your sunscreen however, and don't just believe the "reef safe" label. Avoid the above-mentioned chemical sunscreens but also the following ingredients:
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
- Nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (acceptable labels should say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and shouldn't be able to rub completely in)
- Any type of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”
Safe Sunscreen Options
I even tried to made a DIY sunscreen a few years back, but I have also tried a number of safe / non-toxic versions. Following are my thoughts on a few of these.
I tried this once and it performed well (as in we didn't burn) but it was a little too thick.
I will have to dig up my recipe at some point and share it, but in the meantime, if you are interested in making your own sunscreen, you can get a recipe or two in this book -- My Buttered Life, from MadeOn that contains great recipes including DIY sunscreen. I plan to tweak mine and get it to be a little thinner so I don't fshoweel so "pastey" with it on.
If you are going to try your hand at making your own, you will need quality zinc oxide. Yes, you will have plenty on hand for the future :).)
Safe Store Bought Sunscreens
Here are some safer sunscreens I recommend.
I really like Beautycounter's Stick Sunscreen
Their lotion performs really well too and has a "just right" texture for easy, even coverage. It's also "1" on EWG's SkinDeep which is the safest rating.
I used this one in the past and like it fine--it was the first supposedly non-toxic brand I tried.
It has a low rating on EWG's SkinDeep but please take note of the mixed reviews on Amazon.
Seems like there have been quite a few issues with the texture of the lotion recently, including it being solid mixed with very liquid-ey parts.
Did you know all of these Sunscreen Safety Tips or were some new to you?
Note: This post was originally published in May 2015 but was updated in July 2021 with new information and new images.