Over 75 million Americans will travel to the beach in 2012 to relax, get a tan and have fun with family and friends. The one thing you cannot forget to pack in your beach bag when heading out is sunscreen.  With so many options currently on the market, how are you supposed to know which sunscreen to purchase? Most people tend to grab the first one off the shelf with a high SPF that claims to last long and seems easy to apply.  Factors other than convenience should go into choosing the right sunscreen because the threat of sunburn, sun poisoning and skin cancer cannot be taken lightly.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently published a 2012 Sunscreen Guide, aimed to help consumers choose the best sunscreen possible.  The guide also invalidates some common sunscreen misconceptions.  For example, just because a sunscreen’s SPF value is 50+ does not mean that it provides stronger or longer protection against UV rays.  People who use these high SPF’s tend to gain a false sense of security and stay out longer in the sun without reapplying sunscreen —  increasing their risk of developing skin cancer. Another common mistake is the use of powders and sprays.  While these products enable the quick and even application of sunscreen, they release dangerous toxins into the air that can cause lung damage.  Finally, many sunscreens contain ingredients such as Retinyl palmitate and Oxybenzone that may cause the development of tumors and cancerous moles when exposed to the sun.

This may seem confusing or overwhelming, but the EWG has not left consumers alone to determine which sunscreens fall into these dangerous categories. After analyzing the ingredients, it was discovered that the worst sunscreens contained low levels of UVA protection, false SPF advertising and were in the form of sprays and powders.  These tests determined that the following products are the top 8 sunscreens that you should steer away from this summer:

  1. Neutrogena Fresh Cooling Body Mist Sunblock, SPF 70
  2. Banana Boat Sport Performance Active MAX Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
  3. Aveeno Continuous Protection Sunblock Spray Active, SPF 70
  4. Wegmans Sheer Sunscreen Body Mist, SPF 55
  5. Rite Aid Extreme Sport Continuous Spray, SPF 70+
  6. CVS Sheer Mist Sunscreen, SPF 70
  7. Walgreens Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70
  8. Coppertone Sport Clear Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 90

Based on the same criteria, the EWG determined which sunscreens are the safest. These highly recommended sunscreens have SPF values of 50 or less and contain products such as zinc and titanium, minerals that form a natural, protective layer on the skin. The following were proclaimed the top 8 most effective and affordable sunscreens for summer 2012:

  1. Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
  2. BabyGanics Cover Up Baby Sunscreen for Face & Body, Fragrance Free, SPF 50+
  3. Sunbow Dora the Explorer Sunscreen, Pink, SPF 30
  4. Purple Prairie Botanicals SunStuff Mineral Lotion, SPF 30
  5. Nature’s Gate Aqua Block Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
  6. Solbar Shield Sunscreen, SPF 40
  7. Caribbean Solutions Sol Kid Kare Biodegradable Sunscreen, SPF 25 
  8.  Tropical Sands Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 30

Simply using the right sunscreen is not enough—the correct application of sunscreen is also vital.  Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before going out into the sun, as it takes 20-30 minutes to absorb into the skin. Also, sunscreen should be the last product applied to your body, especially your face. Any make-up, moisturizers, or lip balms are to be applied before your sunscreen.  Finally, an ounce of sunscreen, a dab about the size of a silver dollar, should cover the entire body and form a thin film when applied.  Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, no matter how long the product claims to last.

If you follow the EWG’s guide to picking the right sunscreen and applying it properly, you will have set yourself up for the best protection possible from the sun this summer.  Be smart when thinking about sunscreen this summer and enjoy your time in the sun while knowing that you are doing right by your body. 

Author: Jamie Conn
Jamie Conn is a guest writer for the Healthy Travel blog. She is a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University. Currently, she is exploring options for a major in medicine, health and society, economics or engineering management. 

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik.

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