Column: Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

I can hardly wait for the pools to open and that means it’s officially sunscreen season.

We use sunscreen to protect us from the sun but with questionable ingredients and conflicting reports about if they really work, who in the heck knows what to buy.

As a confused consumer, I set out on the hunt to figure it out and discovered the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an unbiased citizen-funded advocacy and research firm. They just released their 7th annual Sunscreen Report. My hope is that this summary of their findings will leave you empowered to buy safe and effective sunscreen for your family and then forget about it and just have fun in the sun this summer. 

What you need to know…

  • Less than 25 percent of the sun protection products on the market in 2013 are considered to have safe ingredients and contain broad UV protection according to the EWG.
  • Skin cancer rates have tripled over the last 35 years despite increased awareness of melanoma.
  • The current FDA definition of “broad spectrum” doesn’t include protection against UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the body and are thought to cause more damage. In fact, most American sunscreens couldn’t even be sold in Europe because our products wouldn’t meet their more stringent safety and efficacy standards.
  • Even though there are “new” FDA rules in place, sunscreens are not better or safer now than in previous years.

What to avoid…

  • Spray Sunscreen – It’s convenient and fast but it’s also dangerous when inhaled. The FDA expressed concern for the efficacy and safety of sprays in 2011 but companies are still turning them out like crazy. Sprays make it easy to miss a spot. I’m sure we’ve all had the I-missed-a-spot stupid sunburn. 
  • Super High SPFs – The EWG recommends avoiding anything higher than SPF 50. Most higher SPF sunscreens still only protect you from UVB rays which cause the sunburn but UVA rays tend to penetrate deeper causing more damage so we need protection from both. Not to mention that higher SPF sunscreens can give a false sense of safety tricking people into staying out too long and getting burnt anyway.
  • Vitamin A or Retinyl Palmitate – I’ve seen this ingredient in anti-aging beauty products for years – so what’s the problem? Several government studies have found that when exposed to the sun it has been shown to increase the rate at which skin tumors and lesions form. Yikes! This ingredient is found in 1 of 4 sunscreens on the market. While the FDA hasn’t ruled on this yet, EWG strongly recommends you avoid sun products that contain this ingredient. 
  • Oxybenzone – If you flip over your sunscreen right now, you’ll probably find this ingredient lurking there. It’s found in nearly half of all products on the market. Oxybenzone is a chemical that mimics estrogen in the body after it’s absorbed by your skin. Data has shown a link to endometriosis in older women and lower birth weights when used by pregnant moms. Don’t forget that children’s bodies are much smaller and their chemical burden can be much higher, which is especially dangerous while they are still developing.

What to do instead…

The best way to protect your skin is to cover up with clothes, hats, and sticking to the shade as much as possible. When those methods absolutely won’t work, go for one of the EWG recommended brands so you know you’re getting the best protection and the least chemical toxins.

Some of the top-rated brands include…

  • Alba Botanica, Natural Very Emolient Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Aveeno Baby, Natural Protection Face Stick, SPF 50
  • Aubrey Organics, Natural Sunscreen for Active Lifestyles, Tropical, SPF 30
  • Burnt Out, Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Coppertone, Water Babies Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
  • Seventh Generation, Wee Generation Baby Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • And lots more…go to to see the full list

Where to find them locally…

LA Co-op Market – all of the available sunscreen lotions were on the recommended list (yet another reason why I love my local co-op market.)

Here’s wishing you and your family a safe and sunburn-free summer.

Editor’s note: Lisa Bakosi is a Certified Health Coach and founder of Hygea Health & Nutrition, LLC. She provides private coaching to individuals, hosts a variety of health seminars, guest lectures at events, and specializes in Employee Wellness Programs. Bakosi works with her clients on diet and lifestyle strategies to look great and feel amazing. Visit to learn more about her training and unique approach to health.

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