Updated: May 24, 2019
This time last year, I had my almost 1yo niece with me for the day and thought I'd take her to the zoo. It was the first nice day we'd had in a while and figured it would be a fun little outing ... until I realized I didn’t have a sunscreen for her. I texted my sister for what she normally used and, in the meantime, began googling “best baby sunscreens”. Within a few minutes, it became obvious to me that not all SPF’s are created equal and I began the descent into a deep, dark internet rabbit hole of SPF info. I naively believed that SPF’s all sort of worked the same way—they protected your skin from the sun and that was that right?!
No! I could NOT have been more wrong!
**Biggest takeaway: 2/3s of SPF's in the United States contain HORMONE DISRUPTING chemicals and/or a vitamin A derivative that "may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight (EWG)" What?!?! How?!? Why?!
How is it that 2/3 pf the SPF's we're wearing are actually triggering skin cancer?!
In the next few weeks, I became OBSESSED with learning everything I could about safe SPF. I wanted to find products that were effective AND safe that my whole family could use from my littlest nieces and nephews to my dad. We are Irish, very fair and several of us have already had pre-cancerous spots removed, myself included. I couldn’t believe how many ingredients, in the majority of sunscreens, were so terrible for us. It also shocked me that I had never heard about these ingredients before and how unsafe they were.
I'm the type that once I know something, I can't un-know it and look the other way...I have to do something and share what I've learned with everyone I can...so here we are!! This is a "cliff notes" version of everything I've learned so we can all practice safe sun care together :) Woooo! I've also included a roundup of the SPF related questions you’ve sent me on social media. Below this post, you'll find a handful of safe products for you from baby sunscreens to lip balms and tanning oils that I've already tested. The images are all linked right to amazon so you can have safe SPF delivered right to your door ASAP! So, without further ado...keep scrolling for my sun safety 101!
PS - please don't hesitate to email or Instagram message me with any questions! I'm really happy to help ;)
What does SPF mean?
SPF (or the Sunburn Protection Factor) measures the amount of protection a product offers from the sun's UV rays.
What are the differences between UVA and UVB rays?
UVA rays are the rays that penetrate the deepest layers of our skin and cause premature aging, wrinkles and some forms of skin cancer.
UVB rays are the rays that burn the top layers of our skin and can cause most types of skin cancer.
Do all SPF's protect from both UVA and UVB rays?
No! Make sure your SPF of choice is BROAD SPECTRUM. Even then, I would visit the Environmental Working Groups website at EWG.org for a thorough review on the safety and effectiveness of your favorite sunscreen.
What ingredients should I make sure are NOT in my SPF?
Retinyl Palmitate (also called retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol)
What is Retinyl Palmitate (also known as retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol)?
“Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging. Studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A to 12 percent of beach and sport sunscreens, 15 percent of moisturizers with SPF, and 5 percent of lip products with SPF in this year’s database. Government test data shows more skin tumors and lesions on animals treated with this ingredient and exposed to sunlight (EWG)”.
What is Oxybenzone?
“Oxybenzone poses a hazard to human health and the environment. It is an allergen and a hormone disruptor that soaks through skin and is measured in the body of nearly every American. Oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions (Rodriguez 2006). In laboratory studies it is a weak estrogen and has potent anti-androgenic effects (Krause 2012, Ghazipura 2017). The ingredient is in two-thirds of non-mineral sunscreens we assessed. Mainstream sunscreen brands include oxybenzone in most of their products, including those marketed to children” (EWG).
What is Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate)?
Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate) is also a widespread hormone disrupting chemical. "In animal studies, reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations were caused (Krause 2012, Sarveiya 2004, Rodriguez, 2006, Klinubol 2008). It also poses a moderate concern for skin allergies and has been found in mother's milk" (EWG).
How do these harmful ingredients affect me?
“Sunscreens commonly include ingredients that act as “penetration enhancers” and help the product adhere to skin. As a result, many sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body and can be measured in blood, breast milk and urine samples (EWG)”.
Do any of these ingredients effect the ocean or environment?
“In laboratory experiments, oxybenzone caused damage and deformation of coral by acting as an endocrine disruptor and damaging the DNA of coral larvae. Oxybenzone has also been shown to cause coral bleaching and even coral death (EWG)”.
Do you use a physical or chemical sunscreen? What's the difference?
Great question! I personally use physical sunscreens! They contain active mineral ingredients which we know as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They protect our skin from both UV rays by deflecting the sun's rays. They are able to work immediately by sitting on top of our skin and not penetrating any deeper into our skin's layers. They also tend to be more natural. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, do penetrate deeper into our bodies and need a grace period (about 30 mins) prior to sun exposure. Chemical sunscreens tend to also cause more allergic skin reactions as more ingredients are required for them to be considered broad spectrum. Most chemical sunscreens also contain ingredients like oxybenzone (see above). If you'd like to find a chemical SPFs without oxybenzone, look for ingredients like Avobenzone. Avobenzone provides the best broad-spectrum coverage of chemical filters with little penetration. Other chemical filters with moderate toxicity concerns include Homosalate, Octisalate and Octocrylene. They all rank as a #4 on the EWG guide.
Is a higher SPF # safer to use?
“Higher SPF ratings don’t necessarily offer greater protection from UV-related skin damage, especially UVA damage, and may lead users to spend too much time in the sun. In 2011, the FDA determined that high SPF claims may be inherently misleading, and proposed to join most industrialized nations in capping SPF values at 50+ (EWG)”. So applying SPF 100 in the am does not get you sun protection for the whole day ;)
Who should be using SPF?
Everyone! Everyone should be applying an SPF on a daily basis. Over the past three decades, melanoma rates have tripled. It is important to note that sunscreen alone cannot prevent skin cancer, but it is one of the biggest things that we can do to help protect ourselves on the daily.
How often should I be reapplying my SPF?
Every two hours! Your first application should be applied at least 30 minutes prior to being in the sun.
Are sprays safe to use?
Proceed with caution! I've included a section of sprays below that have safe ingredients but are classified as a "3" because of the inhalation risk. “…these products pose an inhalation risk and may not provide a thick and even coating on skin (EWG)”.
Why is SPF in Europe safer?
“In Europe, sunscreen makers can formulate their products with four chemicals that offer stronger protection from UVA rays. American manufacturers have been waiting for years for FDA approval to use these sunscreen ingredients. The FDA has asked for more safety data, but until the FDA approves these ingredients and lifts restrictions on combining certain active ingredients, Americans will not be able to buy sunscreens with the strongest UVA protection (EWG)”.
Are there any good tanning oils that are safe?
I included two tanning oils for you guys. One is listed as a 3 and the other a 4 so just be sure to proceed with caution :)
How can I make sure my SPF is safe?
The EWG.org does an annual sunscreen guide with reviews and rankings of the safest sunscreens. You can also search the sunscreen you are currently using to see how safe its ingredients actually are and find out its level of UV protection. It is also important to note that just because one product in a line is safe, that doesn't mean all of the products in the line are safe. Each individual product should be checked to make sure it's ok!
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