Learn if your brand leaves you overexposed to damaging UVA AND UVB rays, if it breaks down in the sun or if it contains potential hormone-disrupting compounds. Learn to read those ingredients lists and purchase products where you understand what the ingredients are. Brands that are transparent, will clearly explain ingredients for you and those that are certified as natural and organic by an external moderator mean all that hard work has been done for you.
2. FIRST THINGS FIRST – DO THESE BEFORE APPLYING SUNSCREEN
The best defense against getting too much harmful cancer causing UV radiation are protective clothes, shade and timing. Check out the checklist:
Don’t get burned. Red, sore, blistered (then peeling) skin is a clear sign you’ve seen far too much sun. Sunburn drastically increases skin cancer risk – keep your guard up!
Wear clothes. Shirts, hats, shorts and pants that shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays when you need to be out in it – and don’t coat your skin with goop. A long-sleeved surf shirt is a good start.
Find shade – or make it. Picnic under a tree, read beneath an umbrella, take a canopy to the beach. Keep infants in the shade – they lack tanning pigments (melanin) that protect their skin.
Plan around the sun. If your schedule is flexible, go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. UV radiation peaks between 10am and 4:30pm.
Sunglasses are essential. Not just a fashion accessory, sunglasses protect your eyes from UV radiation, a cause of cataracts.
3. NOW PUT ON SUNSCREEN – HERE ARE THE ESSENTIALS
Some sunscreens prevent sunburn but not other types of skin damage. Make sure yours provides broad spectrum protection and follow our other tips for better protection.
Don’t be fooled by a label that boasts of high SPF. Anything higher than “SPF 50+” can tempt you to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburn but not other kinds of skin damage. The FDA says these numbers are misleading. Stick to SPF 15-50+, reapply often and pick a product based on your own skin coloration, time planned outside, shade and cloud cover.
News about Vitamin A. Eating vitamin A-laden vegetables is good for you, but spreading vitamin A on the skin may not be. Government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with vitamin A-laced creams. Vitamin A, listed as “retinyl palmitate” on ingredient labels, is in one-fourth of sunscreens on the market. Avoid them.
Pick a good sunscreen. EWG’s sunscreen database rates the safety and efficacy of about 1,800 SPF-rated products, including about 800 sunscreens for beach and sports. We give high ratings to brands that provide broad spectrum, long-lasting protection with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns when absorbed by the body.
Cream, spray or powder – and how often? Sprays and powders cloud the air with tiny particles of sunscreen that may not be safe to breathe and can sometimes mean you ‘miss spots’. Choose creams instead. Reapply them often, because sunscreen chemicals break apart in the sun, wash off and rub off on towels and clothing.
Message for men: Wear sunscreen. Surveys show that 34 percent of men wear sunscreens, compared to 78 percent of women. Start using it now to reduce your cumulative lifetime exposure to damaging UV radiation.
Got your Vitamin D? Many people don’t get enough vitamin D, which skin manufactures in the presence of sunlight. Your doctor can test your level and recommend supplements or a few minutes of sun daily on your bare skin (without sunscreen) if you have low risk for skin cancer.
4. SUN SAFETY TIPS FOR KIDS
Kids are more vulnerable to sun damage. A few blistering sunburns in childhood can double a person’s lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer. The best sunscreen is a hat and shirt. After that, protect kids with a sunscreen that’s effective and safe. Take these special precautions with infants and children:
Infants under six months should be kept out of direct sun as much as possible. Their skin is not yet protected by melanin. So when you take your baby outside:
- Cover up – Put on protective clothing, tightly woven but loose-fitting, and a sun hat.
- Make shade – Use the stroller’s canopy or hood. If you can’t sit in a shady spot, put up an umbrella.
- Avoid midday sun – Take walks in the early morning or late afternoon.
- Follow product warnings for sunscreen on infants under 6 months old – Most manufacturers advise against using sunscreens on infants or urge parents and caregivers to consult a doctor first.
Toddlers and Children
Sunscreens play an essential part of any day in the sun. However, young children’s skin is especially sensitive to chemical allergens as well as the sun’s UV rays. When choosing a sunscreen, keep these tips in mind:
- Test the sunscreen by applying a small amount on the inside of your child’s wrist the day before you plan to use it. If an irritation or rash develops, try another product. Ask your child’s doctor to suggest a product less likely to irritate a child’s skin.
- Slop on sunscreen and reapply it often, especially if your child is playing in the water or sweating a lot.
- Choose your own sunscreen for daycare and school. Some childcare facilities provide sunscreen for the kids, but you can sometimes bring your own if you prefer a safer, more effective brand. Share EWG’s safe sunscreen tips and product suggestions with your child’s caregiver.
Sun Safety at School
Sometimes school and daycare policies interfere with children’s sun safety. SOme schools treat sunscreen as a medicine and require the child to have written permission to use it. Some insist that the school nurse apply it. Other schools ban hats and sunglasses. Some provide sunscreen that children must apply to themselves before going outside. Here are a few questions to ask your school:
- What is the policy on sun safety?
- Is there shade on the playground?
- Are outdoor activities scheduled to avoid midday sun?
All are good now at enforcing the “No hat, no play” rule, where children must wear them during the summer terms. Keep a hat a school that is named, so your child doesn’t have to take one back and forth.
Teenagers coveting bronzed skin are likely to sunbathe or visit tanning salons. Researchers believe increasing UV exposure may have caused the marked increase in melanoma incidence among women born after 1965. Tanning parlors expose the skin to as much as 15 times the UV radiation of the sun and likely contribute to the melanoma increase.
Tan does not mean healthy. Here are a few more tips:
- Make sunscreen a habit for every outdoor sport and activity.
- Find sun-protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses that you like to wear.
- To parents of teens: Be good role models – let your teen see you protecting yourself from the sun.
- Educate them on fake tanning products or services that provide a temporary tan instead!