Saturday, May 19, 2012

Summer Sunblock Guide

School's out soon and summer vacation is just a couple of weeks away!

With summer, come long days outdoors in the (very strong) summer sun.  Whether or not the beach or pool are in your plans this summer you still need to bathe yourself and your children in sunblock to avoid getting burned.  So, how do you choose the right sunblock for your family? If your answer is to grab the same brand you have been using for years from your local pharmacy, then you might want to rethink sunblock shopping this summer.

  • Retinyl palmitate:  A form of vitamin A that the FDA and national toxicology program suggests might heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun exposed skin.  Until more research is available try to avoid sunscreens with vitamin A. 
  • Oxybenzone: A hormone disrupting chemical that can trigger skin sensitivities and is largely absorbed by the skin.  Most non-mineral based sunblocks contain oxybenzone.  This ingredient is ESPECIALLY NOT RECOMMENDED for children and pregnant women because of its ability to penetrate the skin.
         Look for mineral sunblocks.  If you do not like mineral sunblocks look for a non mineral one  
         that contains avobenzone (not more than 3% for optimal UVA protection) instead of

  • Fragrance:  This ingredient usually means that there are phthalates present, which are hormone disrupting chemicals. Look for sunblocks that specify “Fragrance and Phthalate free”.

  • Mineral based
Mineral based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the  best option, especially for children and people with sensitive skin. They tend to not penetrate the skin as much as non-mineral sunscreens and offer better UVB and UVA protection.  HOWEVER avoid these ingredients in sprays or powders since they can potentially be toxic if inhaled in large quantities.

Common mainstream brands like Neutrogena, CVS, and Aveeno all offer mineral only sunscreens.

  • SPF
 Remember that high SPF should not give you a false sense of security... you still need to reapply.  Studies in the US and Europe have found that people using high SPF, thinking they are more protected, do not reapply sunscreen and actually get the same number of sunburns and more exposure to damaging UVA rays than those using lower SPF.

High-SPF products contain greater amounts of sun-blocking chemicals, many of which have been linked to hormone disruption and skin sensitivities.

When choosing a SPF, SPF 30-45 is more recommended since anything above that number does not provide significant more protection.

In Europe, sunscreens that do not protect significantly from both UVA and UVB sun rays are not sold.  Not so in the US.  What to look out form? Make sure your sunscreen  says it has 'broad spectrum SPF' coverage ( this means it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays which both contribute to skin cancer and early skin aging)

The truth is that not all non-toxic sunscreens are great.  Some feel really heavy and leave a white residue.  Others are just not water resistant and can leave you unprotected and vulnerable to sunburn after a dip in the pool.  So beware and be willing to try a few out before you find one you like. 

Also important?  Regardless of what SPF you are using always reapply sunscreens, especially after playing in the water!

The Environmental Working Group has a great sunscreen database (they review over 1800 products!) where you can look up your favorite brand and see how it measures up and if it considered 'safe' or not (a rating of 1-2 is ideal, 3 acceptable).  If you are starting from scratch it is a great source for you to discover new brands; just choose from those with the lowest ratings or go to their ‘Best Beach & Sport Sunscreens” list .

I have tried a couple throughout the years and here are my favorites for the whole family (they all scored a 2 on EWG's database), in no particular order!

  • Dr Robin for Kids:   A little thick but I still like it and use it on my son.

  • Aveeno Baby Natural Protection MineralBlock Face Stick, SPF 50+:   Event though this stick does leave a white residue I love to use it on my son’s face since he thinks the stick is cool and actually lets me use it on his face without squirming everywhere.

  • Alba botanical Natural Very Emollient Sunblock, Kids Mineral Protection, SPF 30 :  goes on a bit smother....  ideal for everyone in the family.

  • California Baby:  California Baby has about 4 different formulations that have all scored a 2, however I like their Super Sensitive No Fragrance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30+

  • La Roche- Posay: Anthelios 40 Sunscreen Cream, SPF 40 : I use it most of the year on my face.  

Do you have a favorite non-toxic  sunscreen you would recommend??  Feel free to comment I am always looking to try new ones!


  1. Hi, :-)Love your blog!
    Thanks for sharing and spreading the word about toxic ingredients in sunscreens. Personally I use Badger's sunscreens, but I also LOVE Sweetsation Therapy for my kids. I wrote about them some time ago:

    Have a great day! :-)

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Tamara! I have used Badger in the past on my son and, even though it goes on a bit thick, have not had problems! A friend however got a nasty burn while using it one afternoon (suspect she might not have reapplied after a swim!) so beware :-) will check out your blog!!!!