Every summer I am overwhelmed by the information regarding sunscreens. So much so, I just want to give up on them altogether. But, then again, I am fair, prone to freckles and moles and because of this, at greater risk. So, what to do..... I have read through the best information sources I know (Environmental Work Group, WebMD, and Andrew Weil to name a few) and come up with the following:
As you buy sunscreens this summer do not bother to buy any sunscreen over SPF 50. The FDA is actually saying that sunscreens over that amount are not proven to be any safer and asking (because they can't require) that labels be changed. Again, it will be a while before this happens, definitely through 2012. SPF 15-30 is most likely all we need for adequate protection.
However, it's more complex than just the numbers. The reality of sunscreen use is much more complex. Choose one that is PABA-free and oxybenzone-free. These are the nastiest chemicals often used, although becoming less common, now that they've been exposed. Look for Parsol 1789, effective and, so far, a healthier alternative. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, once only white in color, are now available in colorless form. The EWG recommends products with these minerals as the basis of protection. Look for them on the label as well. They are effective at blocking all types of rays.
Don't read the label claims! Read the ingredients! There is no regulation over sunscreens, lotions or any beauty products. The labels are filled with claims of all sort, often misleading and even false. It is up to you to make sure what is healthy and effective is present in the product. And, it is up to you to re-apply after swimming, sweating, and every 2 hours of exposure. No matter what a label claims, the effective ingredients break down after 2 hours or so.
Some extra tidbits: Get SOME sun exposure! Allow the sun to get at your skin for 30 minutes a day without sunscreen. You need the vitamin D! In the winter in the northern areas of the country, take a supplement. The sun is too far away to get at our skin and make the vitamin. Don't bother with products claiming they have healthy vitamin A. It may be risky and it does no good externally for protection. There really is no conclusive evidence that sunscreen protects against the most common and deadliest forms of skin cancer, but most agree, it most likely does and most recommend using sunscreen if you have to be exposed to sun. Otherwise, I say stay out of the sun when it's rays are the worst from noon to 3PM when you can, shade yourself with a hat, a tree, an umbrella. Sunscreen DOES protect against sun burn and those of us who have had burns know it's a good thing to avoid!
I hate to say it, but fork over the extra money for more expensive brands like Neutrogena, Jason, and Kiss My Face. The EWG has a guide which requires a donation but you can type in your brand and see if it ranks. Also, you can find a list of some recommended by EWG in the past on WebMD. Also, don't let the sunscreen confusion stop you from enjoying fun in the sun!