Best Sun Protection Practices – 2018 (and things to avoid)

The first official day of summer was just over a week ago and the 4th of July is only days away so today I want to talk about sun protection.

I know that it’s tempting to soak up all the sun you can in the name of Vitamin D and beautifully bronzed skin, but we really have to be careful about how much sun we get and how we get that sun.  Now, one thing that I try to always seek in my life is balance.  That means in most cases, I’m not going to recommend that you go extreme in any one direction.  Sun exposure is no different.

We all know that the sun, sunlamps, and tanning booths all give off ultraviolet (UV) radiation and exposure to UV radiation causes early aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.  However, moderate sun exposure may have benefits for your health, including stronger bones, better sleep, improved mood, and a healthier immune system.  In fact, non-burning sun exposure is associated with a reduced risk of melanoma, while sunburns are associated with a doubling of the risk of melanoma.

I want take a moment to dispel the myth that if you have a darker complexion, you can’t get skin cancer.  Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of race and, according to a July 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma is actually more deadly in people of color.  Darker skin does produce more of the pigment called melanin that does help protect skin — but only to a certain extent. People of color can still get sunburned, and can also develop skin cancer from UV damage.

So how do we enjoy the sun without increasing our risk for cancer?

Here are some tips to protect your skin from sunlight:

  • Wear a hat with a wide brim all around that shades your face, neck, and ears. Baseball caps and some sun visors protect only parts of your skin.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants. Tightly woven, dark fabrics are best. Some fabrics are rated with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). The higher the rating, the greater the protection from sunlight.

Keep in mind that the sun’s rays…

  • are strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., so be especially vigilant during those times
  • they can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds
  • they are reflected by sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement

Now, what should you do if you aren’t going to do aaaaall of that stuff?  Because I know you’re not because I don’t always do it 😝  Well, you should wear sunscreen products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. (Some doctors suggest using a product with an SPF of at least 30 but don’t be fooled into thinking that the higher the SPF the better the sunscreen.)

Here’s the thing though, not all sunscreens are created equally. According to the 2018 report from Environmental Working Group (EWG), 2/3s of the 650 beach and sport sunscreens that they investigated don’t work…That’s roughly 67%! Which means they provide inadequate sun protection and/or contained harmful ingredients.

Per the EWG’s report, there have been major improvements over the last 10 years or so, however the majority of sunscreens available for purchase in the U.S. still contain damaging chemicals or fail to offer enough protection against ultraviolet rays aaaaand about half of the beach and sport sunscreens sold in the U.S. that EWG analyzed would not be allowed on the market in Europe due to inadequate protection against UVA rays.

It’s important to remember that there is no perfect sunscreen. Many contain harmful chemicals, and even mineral-based ones often contain nanoparticles which are minute ingredients that can cross the blood-brain barrier and also harm aquatic life. Also, sunscreen is unique compared to many other personal care products because you coat it thickly onto your skin, often multiple times a day. You don’t get that type of hours-long, skin-absorbing exposure with something like soap or shampoo that you quickly wash off or even moisturizer that you apply in a thin layer once or twice a day.

That’s why it’s very important to look for safer sunscreens if you use them and to recognize that you can’t only rely on sunscreens alone to prevent sun overexposure.  You need to incorporate the other tips I mentioned earlier as much as possible as well.

Some interesting things I read in the EWG Report (some paraphrased):

Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, mineral and chemical filters. Each uses a different mechanism for protecting skin and maintaining stability in sunlight. The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Laboratory studies indicate that some chemical UV filters may mimic hormones, and physicians report sunscreen-related skin allergies, which raises important questions about unintended human health consequences from frequent sunscreen application.

The Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed evidence of potential hazards of sunscreen filters – instead it grandfathered in ingredients used in the late 1970s when it began to consider sunscreen safety. EWG has reviewed the existing data about human exposure and toxicity for the nine most commonly used sunscreen chemicals. The most worrisome is oxybenzone, which was added to nearly 65 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens in EWG’s 2018 sunscreen database. It is an allergen and a hormone disruptor that soaks through skin and is measured in the body of nearly every American.

EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone.  But there are other sunscreen chemicals that also penetrate the skin and can cause hormone disruption.  The ones I would caution against are: Oxybenzone,Octinoxate, Homosalate, Octisalate, and Octocrylene.  Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Avobenzone and mexoryl SX all have a score of 2 with EWG which means they have a lower toxicity concern.

One other ingredient of concern is a common sunscreen additive, a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate.  Studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. Other governments warn that cosmetics may contribute to unsafe amounts of vitamin A, and recommend against using vitamin A-laden cosmetics on the lips and over large portions of the body. Too much pre-formed vitamin A, including subtitle: retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinyl linoleate, can cause a variety of health problems, including liver damage, brittle nails, hair loss, and osteoporosis and hip fractures in older adults.  There is another camp that says that the risk of vitamin A overexposure from cosmetics is low but I personally don’t know that I want to take that risk.

As for inactive ingredients, beware of the preservative subtitle methylisothiazolinone.  Laboratory studies indicate that methylisothiazolinone is a skin sensitizer or allergen.

So that’s it for my spiel on sun protection.  There are a bunch of sunscreen products that got good scores from EWG, but I’ll list and link the top recommendations from EWG for sunscreen products in 2018 below to make them easy for you to find.  You can also find the full EWG sunscreen site  here if you want to read the whole report, search for your favorite sunscreen products to see how they rate or see the entire list of sunscreens and their ratings.

And remember, in order for even the best sunscreen to be effective you have to follow the manufacturers instructions.  Generally, that means applying at least 30 minutes BEFORE exposure and reapplying every 2 hours or immediately after coming out of the water or sweating.

Here are some of the best sunscreen products (based on effectiveness, health hazards and sunscreen stability)^:

The Best Sunscreens of 2018, Beach & Sport


The Best Sunscreens of 2018, Moisturizers


The Best Sunscreens of 2018, Kid-Friendly


8 Best Sunscreens That Are Cheap ($10-20) & Widely Available 


And for those that you should absolutely avoid…

Worst Sunscreens for Kids

  • Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100
  • Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
  • Coppertone Water Babies Foaming Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Continuous AccuSpray, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Continuous Spray, SPF 50
  • Coppertone Wet’n Clear Kids Sunscreen Continuous Spray, SPF 50+
  • Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
  • CVS Health Kids Clear Sunscreen Spray, SPF 50 & 70
  • Equate Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 60+
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Stick Sunscreen, SPF 70+
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70+
  • Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
  • Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Spray, SPF 50

And here are some of the other worst overall offenders scoring in the Red Zone (7-10) for major safety concerns:

  • Panama Jack Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 85
  • Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen, SPF 60+
  • CVS Health Sun Lotion, SPF 60
  • Up & Up Sport Sunscreen Spray, SPF 15, 30 & 50
  • Panama Jack Sunscreen Continuous Spray, SPF 15, 30 & 70
  • NO-AD Sun Care Sport Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 50
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Sunscreen Spray, SPF 50 & 85+
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen Spray, SPF 30
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 70, 85+ & 100+
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 70, 85+ & 100+


Reference Articles:

EWG’s Sunscreen Report 

8 Best Sunscreen Bets When You’re in a Pinch 

Dark Skin Tones and Skin Cancer:  What You Need to Know 

National Cancer Institute: Sunlight 

The Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure 2016 

The Best Sunscreens of 2018 (and Toxic Ones to Avoid) 


^Pulled from, based on the 2018 EWG ratings list

*Some links are affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Thanks for your support!






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