Is Your Sunscreen Protecting You?

May 24, 2012 by

Let me start off by saying that as a teenager, I would rub baby oil on my skin and sit by the pool for a good part of the summer doing my best to tan up like a tropical island native.  I  was a sun worshipper and I was extremely naïve.

I still adore sunshine but I have grown up.  At some point in my mid-twenties, I decided that I should probably heed the warnings and start protecting my skin from the sun.  The fear of premature wrinkles in addition to the threat of skin cancer helped convince me that I need to take care of my skin.

As a mom, it is a no-brainer that you need to put sunscreen on your little ones before going outside on sunny days.   I am always armed and loaded with SPF and my girls are sprayed or rubbed down with sunscreen almost every day during the warmer months.   I thought that this is what I needed to be doing to protect them.

But now, after seeing this this recent news report on the safety of sunscreen, I am worried that if I continue to use some of the sunscreens that I have been using, I could actually be harming my children.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released its 2012 Sunscreen Guide and it’s worth taking a look at if you have not seen it.  They have put together a great consumer resource evaluating and comparing sunscreens.  Each product evaluated is given an overall score of 0-10 with 0-2 being a low hazard, 3-6 being a moderate hazard and 7-10 being a high hazard.

I rounded up all the sunscreen bottles currently in my possession and checked the labels.  Until now, the only thing that I really paid much attention to on the sunscreen bottle or can was the SPF since I thought that this was the most important factor when choosing a sunscreen.  However, to be considered low hazard by the EWG, a sunscreen must not contain oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate (a form of Vitamin A) and it must protect against both UVA and UVB rays.  The EWG also warns against choosing a sunscreen with a high SPF (over 50) and to avoid using spray sunscreens which can be harmful to the lungs.

100% of the sunscreen products in my house contained oxybenzone and received a high hazard score by the EWG.  Uggh.  All of them.  The sprays, the lotions, and the sunscreen sticks.  On a recent trip to the store, I spent some time at the sunscreen display reading labels and I could not find one sunscreen that did not contain oxybenzone.  Not one.  I was mad.  If these products really might be harmful, why aren’t safe alternatives readily available at the end of the aisle at Target?  Why do I have to go searching for a sunscreen that is not potentially toxic?

I am not one to make a big deal about stuff like this.  I’ll be the first to admit that these days it it seems like there is an endless list of potentially hazardous toxins to be aware of.  It can be overwhelming and it can seem like nothing is safe and so I think a large portion of the population just trusts the FDA because this is the easiest thing to do.  I mean, how many people have time to research every product they buy?  And even if you do have time, there is not always an easy way to find out what products are safer.

I am part of the population that most of the time assumes that if a product is on a shelf at a store, it cannot be that dangerous.  I don’t generally read labels on my kids’ toys or pajamas and I pay little attention to chemicals used in making our everyday household products, but for some reason, the sunscreen danger really bothers me.  Maybe it’s because we use so much of it during the summer or perhaps it’s because I feel that we should not have to worry about being harmed by a product that is intended to protect.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need protection from the sun but since we do, I’m going to get myself some new sunscreen.

A quick way to find a low hazard product is to refer to the EWG’s list of Top Sunscreens, which can be found here.  The EWG Sunscreen Guide also allows you to search for a particular product to find out its rating and you can even download an app for your smartphone to help compare sunscreens while shopping.

What do you think? Did you know about the potential hazards in sunscreen? Do you read your sunscreen labels?  Is your family being safely protected?



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Patty lives in the Hartford area with her husband, three young children and their beloved labrador. She works part-time as an attorney and is doing her best to balance her career and full-time mommy gig. She feels overwhelmed and crazy at times but knows that she is fortunate to have the opportunity to practice law and raise a family. Patty enjoys hiking and nature and can't wait to take her children backpacking one day. She also enjoys a good sweat and does her best to fit regular exercise into her busy schedule. Patty is excited to share stories and connect with other moms who are facing the same daily dilemmas and simultaneously experiencing the many joys of motherhood.

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  • Dena

    Thanks for bringing this to light again Patty, especially with Sunny days ahead! If anyone wants more info on the dangers of Oxybenzone and Retinyl palmitate, we covered them in our Toxin Series and

  • Dena

    BTW, we use BabyGanics (2) lotion- it can be found at Babies/Toys R Us. We have also used Earths Best Organic (2- not the water play one). Both offer great protection and are easy to apply, thought the Earth’s best is thicker and whiter when on the skin and doesn’t last as long for the tube.

  • ScienceMomArlene

    I am with you on the sun protection and providing the best and safest you can find.
    I read a lot of reports that stated how you don’t need anything over SPF30 and how anything hire doesn’t provided anymore benefit and might also be harmful. With that I went out to find a baby sunscreen will SPF 30 or lower and last year had no trouble finding Aveeno Baby Natural Protection MineralBlock Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30 at Target. It gets a 3 rating from EWG. Recently I have had a hard time finding the SPF 30 one at Target so picked up a California Baby Face & Body Sunscreen Lotion (EWG rating of 2). So far it works great but it a lot more expensive (I think its like $15 a tube). I also got a few samples of Episencial Sunny Sunscreen, SPF 35 that are great as well (EWG rating of 2) and Target sells them online but I haven’t found them in store yet. All are designed for children but do say, Age 0+. No reason adults can’t use them as well.

    A great website that sells a lot of these is

  • Nancy

    I tried many many sunscreens on my fair-skinned children–and the best of the best (recommended by my son’s pediatric dermatologist at Yale-New-Haven BTW)for us has definitely been SolRx. This is the sunscreen used by Navy Seals, Ironman triathletes, and world-class skiers, surfers etc. Their website has tons of scientific info, but the 2 main advantages for me are that #1 it retains SPF for 8 hours in and out of water(no need to reapply at the beach), and #2 It will not rub off or sweat into eyes AT ALL. I love it so much that I sometimes give tubes to people I barely know.

  • Mgpeak

    We are BIG fans of California Baby sunscreens and products. They have the face sticks and lotions. Those can be found at Target in the baby department. We also use the Badger brand. Thanks for bringing this to light!

  • vtnative

    Great information! I’m bummed that none of our sunscreens are on the top rated list.

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