Get Out: Safe Sunscreens


A friend asked me last week about what sunscreen I use–she knows I won’t use any personal care products that contain ingredients that are harmful (to me or the environment) and I never leave the house without sunscreen (and a hat for long periods of time outdoors). Sure, I can honestly say I protect myself from the sun because it’s the healthy thing to do, but I’m equally as concerned about my vanity (why bring on wrinkles earlier than necessary?).

I’ve done my research on the topic of sun protection and will happily reveal my top sources: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website. The Skin Deep site turns the spotlight on personal care products by revealing their ingredients and ranking them in terms of safety. A product with harmless ingredients will get a 0 rating and one with a cocktail of toxic chemicals will get a 10; I make it a rule to use only products in the 0-2 range. The EWG’s Sunscreen report has everything you need to know and reveals both the safety and effectiveness of the sunscreen products tested. My go-to products are by California Baby and Badger and they’re top-ranked.

Other sunscreen products you might be more familiar with contain ingredients linked to any or all of the following: cancer; developmental/reproductive toxicity; allergies/immunotoxicity; neurotoxicity; endocrine disruption; persistence and bioaccumulation; organ system toxicity (non-reproductive); irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs); enhanced skin absorption; contamination concerns, biochemical or cellular level changes. If you don’t know what any of this means, you really don’t want to. (Did you really have to read anything after cancer?) Gloomy and doomy, I know. But of course you should be informed about what you’re putting on your body and will want to check this out. And there’s good news for users of Coppertone, Banana Boat, and other popular products I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole: you can find something safer and better.

Musical aside: The song in my head while writing this is “California Sun,” performed by The Ramones.

Note: post was updated after original publish date with the link to 2010’s Skin Deep report.

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