Maybe you’ve been wearing sunscreen every day, all year, regardless of the weather—because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s more likely, however, that this is the weekend you dig up whatever lotion you bought at the end of last summer (or whichever is closest to the checkout line) and start lathering up to avoid painful burns and sun poisoning. Memorial Weekend is the nationally recognized kick-off to summer, after all. Here’s the thing—a good number of people using the wrong kind of sunscreen.
It’s to be expected. Even dutiful parents often don’t look further than brand or SPF. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to consider when shopping for sun protection this summer. A new report by the Environmental Working Group shows that not all sunscreens are created equal—75 percent of the sunscreen products recently reviewed provide insufficient protection or contain actively harmful ingredients.*
Sunscreen feels low-stakes and even virtuous, but it turns out that avoiding harmful additives isn’t just part of some hippy bullshit scam—it’s basic self preservation. If you don’t want to bother memorizing multi-syllabic chemicals, look for “mineral-only” sunscreens. These are the ones that you might have avoided because, in earlier and cheaper iterations, the zinc/titanium in the formula can look chalky on the skin, and was purposefully done to reflect the son. (If you look noticeably washed out in old family photos from the beach, your parents might have been slathering you in mineral-based sunscreen as a kid.) Luckily, the rise in concern over chemicals in skincare have forced brands to make their mineral lotions cleaner and clearer on the skin. In fact, the options for mineral sunscreen have doubled in the past decade, and now comprise about 34 percent of the market—there are plenty to choose from.
Also! Watch out for the form your sunscreen takes—spray vs. lotion. Because putting on sunscreen is already an annoying use of time when there’s a perfectly good beach right over there, plenty of people (especially those responsible for the skin health of wriggly children) opt for the spray-on kind. But if there’s one takeaway from this report it’s to avoid them at all costs. Spray-on sunscreens are not only ineffective for thorough application but also release their harmful chemicals into the air for dangerous inhalation.
Beyond that, be skeptical of anything claiming to provide an SPF over 50. Although it’s still yet to be approved, the FDA proposed a regulation back in 2011 that all sunscreens advertising SPF higher than 50 be changed to just “50+” since even the FDA can’t prove that anything higher than a SPF 50 actually does more to protect you. This isn’t a reason to trash you SPF 70, or whatever it may be, but it is a reason to stop feeling so smug about it.
Unsurprisingly, some big name brands like Coppertone, Banana Boat, and CVS brand were revealed to be among the worst possible sunscreens you can buy. So what should you use? Mother Jones has the top 10, which includes Bare Belly Organics, All Good, Babo Botanicals, and Nature’s Gate. You might as well buy something that works. Throw on a hat while you’re at it, just to be extra safe.