We approach sunscreen the way we approach diet foods: Both are supposed to be good for you, details be damned. The truth of the matter is not all sunscreens are created equal, and some might do more harm than protection.
The FDA banned companies from promoting their brands as "waterproof" or "sweatproof," but there are still FDA-approved ingredients that could be affecting your health.
Besides being noncomedogenic and water-resistant, these are other important factors to take into consideration:
1. Read those ingredient labels like a cereal box.
According to the Environmental Working Group, a organization that provides a safety guide for sunscreens, oxybenzone can trigger allergic and hormonal reactions. Studies are still in the preliminary stages, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
Also, keep a look out for retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A that allegedly increases the development of skin tumors.
Look for sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as they score well in EWG ratings. They have few health risks and physically (instead of chemically) block sun rays.
2. Slather, Don't Spray It.
You know when you accidentally inhale the mist, and it leaves a metallic aftertaste? The EWG doesn't recommend using it because you can inhale nano-particles. Though no studies have proven it's dangerous, it's still risky.
Turns out the convenience of sunscreen sprays also makes it a less effective source of coverage versus lotions since it's easy to apply less than the required amount. If you do choose to use it, spray multiple coats to ensure coverage especially on windy days and avoid spraying your face altogether to avoid inhalation.
3. The Two Most Important Words Are "Broad Spectrum."
According to a recent TIME article, only 43 percent of people know what SPF stands for, it's like MSG- you don't really know what it means but you know it's important. The sun protection factor measures a sunscreen's ability to filter UVB rays however, it doesn't measure UVA.
What's the difference? Glad you asked. UVA darkens the skin and leads to aging because of how deep it penetrates your skin. UVA rays affect us daily without leaving evidence but the affects can show up over time. While both can lead to skin cancer, UVB rays can leave you looking like the Kool-Aid man. The only way to filter UVA and UVB rays is to use "broad spectrum" sunscreen.
4. Pretend your shot glass is a measuring cup.
Everybody is a different size and shape but a shot glass worth of sunscreen should suffice. Studies have shown that some users only apply half the amount of sunscreen recommended so even if you're using SPF 100 you can wind up with coverage as low as 3.2. Just pretend you're toast and your sunscreen is peanut butter- you want a nice, even coating.
5. More isn't always better.
In a recent survey on consumer knowledge of sunscreen labels, the main factor taken into account when purchasing sunscreen is the SPF value. As opposed to what you might think, SPF 100 doesn't offer twice as much protection as SPF 50. SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of sun rays while SPF 100 blocks just one percent more.
The higher the number, the greater the sense of protection which might lead people to stay in the sun longer without reapplying, a problem the EWG highlights. Dermatologists recommended SPF 30 filters 97 percent of sun rays and if used properly (reapplied every two hours) it's sufficient.