Victoria Day weekend unofficially marks the first day of summer here in Canada! And let me tell you, people must have been counting down the minutes because literally at work overnight I went from recommending immune-boosting cough syrups to loading up parents’ carts with bug sprays and sunscreen. Because everyone is so pumped about the sunshine, today’s summer post is about what to look for in a sunscreen. I’ve got three lessons to help you decipher the best quality brand for your dollar. And read ahead for why you absolutely *need* to read labels……just because a sunscreen is sold at a health food store does not make it good for you, trust me!
Lesson 1: Ingredients
Let me first recommend that if you don’t have the EWG website saved as a favourite on your computer (or as an app on your phone) do it now! It is your personal label-reading superstar. The EWG recently came out with it’s annual sunscreen guide and all you have to do is type in your favourite brand to see how it ranks for safety.
Shady Offenders – Seems to be Oxybenzone -Allergen, bio-accumulator (gets stored in your body for a long time) and hormone disrupter (in 2005 scientists from the University of California noticed that male fish living off the coast of OC and Huntington Beach were growing ovary tissue as a result of man-made estrogenic compounds. Oxybenzone was one culprit that stood out.). Other chemical ingredients to question include octinoxate, octisalate & homosalate.
Look twice at the ingredients of Aveeno Active Naturals CC Cream (SPF 30), Kiss My Face Continuous Spray Cool Sport (at health food stores!!), Banana Boat Sunscreen Lotion and many Coppertone products before buying.
Best Bets – mineral non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Make sure the “non-active ingredients” are minimal for things like BHT, parabens, alcohol (oh yes) or other chemicals. I’ve tried and still love Green Beaver, Badger, Substance, and Goddess Garden.
Lesson 2: Disclaimers
The latest report from the FDA made some neat laws for sunscreen labelling. Products are not allowed to make claims for “waterproof” or “sweat-proof” anymore, as this was too misleading. This means get ready to see a whole lot of “sport” sunscreens coming to market – a brand’s way of eliciting the image of sweat-proof without actually saying it.
You should also know that “broad-spectrum” sunscreens must contain UVA and UVB protection BUT only “a certain percentage of a broad spectrum product’s total protection is against UVA“. UVB rays are the ones most indicated with sunburn, but both A and B are indicated for skin cancer.
“Mineral” sunscreen implies that it is using mostly minerals to block the sun’s rays – namely zinc or titanium dioxide. These types of sunscreens rate quite highly on the EWG rating and are effective against UVA and UVB.
SPF – what the heck does that mean anyway? Sun Protection Factor, and it tells you how well a product will protect against UVB rays, depending on your skin type. For example, if you can usually handle 10 minutes in the sun without getting burnt, if you use an SPF 15 you can be protected for 10min x 15 = 150 minutes. BUT DON’T BE FOOLED! The SPF ratings don’t go up the way you think. Take these important facts from the Badger and EWG websites:
SPF 15 = 93% protection
SPF 30 = 97% protection
SPF 100 = 99% protection
So going up a whole 60 points in SPF-land only gets you 2% more protection, and inherently a load more chemicals that can pose health risks, skin damage and hormone disruption. What to do? Stick between 15 and 30 on the advice of dermatologists, and use other methods of sun protection like hats, shade, timing (don’t go out at mid-day) and re-application.
Lesson 3: Consistency
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the thicker sunscreens are much better at protecting your skin. Almost all of the continuous spray/aerosol suncreens rate terribly in terms of ingredients but also in terms of protection. This is because sprays inherently only cover your skin with a sheer layer of protection. Even if you’re spraying on an SPF 50, you’re only giving your body a light misting of it.
The best products that spread well but won’t leave your body looking like you’re a freshly frosted cupcake include Goddess Garden, Andalou BB / CC creams with SPF (tinted a peachy-colour), and Green Beaver. I’m in love with Badger, but it’s just too white and thick. GREAT FOR BABIES THOUGH – they don’t care what they look like, haha! And if you really need a spray but want better protection, Goddess Garden Spray and Green Beaver Spray will cover you up and don’t come in aerosols.