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What's the Best Sunscreen for My Kid?

The Environmental Working Group releases its annual report on top picks

Published on: May 22, 2018

Kid with sunscreen

With Memorial Day (and the unofficial start to summer) fast approaching, sunscreen's on our minds. What's best? What's safest? What works? 

Today, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its 12th Annual Guide to Sunscreens. The guide includes ratings based on safety and efficacy for 650 sunscreens, 250 SPF-labeled moisturizers and 115 lip products.

A full two-thirds of the products offer inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone, a hormone disruptor, or retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin, says Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst.

The big news from EWG this year is its renewed push to shift the market away from oxybenzone, Lunder says. It's a push that made recent headlines thanks to a new bill passed by the Hawaii state legislature.

As of publication, the bill had not yet been signed into law by the governor; if it is, the law will ban sunscreen makers from selling and distributing sunscreens that contain oxybenzone in Hawaii due to the damage researchers believe it causes coral reefs. Hawaii will also become the first state to make such a move, a long overdue one says, Lunder.

People who only use sunscreen get sunburns more often.

"Oxybenzone is an ingredient we’ve been worried about for years due to mounting evidence that it poses a hazard to human health and the environment," she says. "It is an allergen and a hormone disruptor that soaks through skin and is measured in the body of nearly every American."

The good news: Every major sunscreen brand offers products without this ingredient.

According to this year’s EWG study, mineral-only sunscreens with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide rate the best for general all-around skin sun protection, offering a good balance of UVA and UVB protection. Mineral-based sunscreens are also less likely to provoke skin allergies in the youngest users, says Lunder.

As usual, though, the most important fact for parents to remember is that people who only use sunscreen get sunburns more often. The best defense against sunburns and the skin damage caused by them is to use a combined approach to skin protection.

"We recommend thinking of other ways to protect your family members," Lunder says. "Wear a hat, have some kind of protection on lips, cover up with clothing and skip midday sun exposure."

6 important facts about sunscreen

  1. Don’t be fooled by high SPFs. Look for products with an SPF of lower than 50+.
  2. Spray sunscreens are still a no-no. They don’t provide a thick or uniform enough coat and pose inhalation concerns.
  3. Avoid retinyl palmitate. Skip sunscreens that contain the form of vitamin A known as retinyl palmitate; some studies have linked its usage to the formation of skin tumors and lesions.
  4. Avoid oxybenzone. It’s a known hormone disrupter and allergen.
  5. Rub sunscreen in 30 minutes before sun exposure. Use a generous amount and make sure to rub it into the skin and cover all exposed areas.
  6. Apply sunscreen every two hours. Make good use of your cell phone and set a re-application reminder. And reapply after swimming or sweating, too.

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