The Environmental Working Group helps sort out which sunscreens are safest.

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

If you want to save your skin from sun damage, you’ll have to do more than just slap on the sunscreen with the highest UVA/UVB number.

In fact, there’s a wealth to learn about on the fine print of your prospective skin cancer protectant, but unless you’ve got a master’s in bio-chemistry, you’ll need a little help. That’s where the non-profit chemical watchdog organization Environmental Working Group comes in.

Badger Sunscreen, protects without adding toxic chemicals

According to the EWG, the old method of just looking for the brand that promised the highest protection via the AVA/AVB number listed on its label is simply not good enough. There’s a better way to sort out the most effective and safest sunscreens — by looking for products that use zinc or titanium minerals to block out the sun’s harmful rays, but stay away from a lot of toxic additives.

The zinc and titanium minerals are what keep the sun’s harmful rays from damaging your precious epidermis, and thereby reduce your risk of skin cancer. They’re not perfect solutions, but they perform the work you need. It’s the many other ingredients that find their way into your sunscreen that you must watch out for.

The EWG has vetted sunscreens, culled those with unhealthful ingredients, to produce a list of  safer, non-toxic, sunscreens. None of its non-toxic selections contain harmful ingredients such as oxybenzone or vitamin A (which can increase sun sensitivity) or any other ingredient that’s been found to be a hormone disruptor. (When it comes to protection, kids and teens especially should really avoid hormone-affecting ingredients.)

Some of the brands that made the EWG recommended list (click to see the EWG assessment for each one) include:

Most of the sunscreens sold under these labels rate a low 1 or 2 on the 10-point toxicity scale (with 1 being the safest and 10 being the most toxic) developed by the EWG. A few variants might have a higher rating (meaning they contain one or more ingredients of moderate concern). But none rank in the red-alert zone.

These brands are commonly available at natural food markets and online.

Unfortunately, some of the most popular brands on the market today, sold at big retail outlets, receive some of the worst marks from EWG.

Soleo Organic's 30+ can be safer than toxic competitor's with 100 UVA/UBA ratings

Soleo Organic's 30+ sunscreen can be better for you than some sunscreens with a 100 UVA/UBA rating

Some of the big brands offer options, however, that fall into the low toxicity range. Coppertone, for instance, offers several variations for kids that rank a 3 on the 10-point scale. Coppertone Kids Pure and Simple ranks a 3 overall. It does contains some ingredients of concern, such as formaldehyde and methyl paraben. But on balance, it’s not as  problematic as other sunscreens that contain many additives of concern, including synthetic fragrances.

Many popular sunscreens rated in the “to avoid” range because of dangerous additives like oxybenzone, which has been linked to reproductive health problems and is considered to be an endocrine disruptor.

Banana Boat’s Kids Max Protect and Play Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 100, is one example of how a product that looks protective can be less effective and even contain harmful ingredients, according to the EWG rating system.

Kids Max Protect rates a 7 on the scale because it contains several dubious ingredients, including oxybenzone, one of the most harmful ingredients found in sunscreens.

So this summer, don’t get burned, check out your sunscreens with the help of EWG.

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