What you really need to know about your sunscreen

Summer is officially upon us, meaning plenty of days at the beach or in the park or even just in the backyard soaking up some rays. And for those of us who are aware of the potential dangers (as well as the super fun times) of spending time in the sun, good old sunscreen is a very necessary companion. You slather it to prevent sunburn as well as keep some kinds of skin cancer. It’s a win-win, right?

Not so much, it turns out. According to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a DC-based advocacy group, some of your favorite sunscreen brands might be doing more harm than good. The environmental organization’s annual sunscreen report says that drugstore favorites like Coppertone and CVS brand sunscreen are full of potentially toxic chemicals, but the most egregious brand of all is Neutrogena.

“Neutrogena’s advertising hype is further from reality than any other major brand we studied,” EWG writes in its report. “It claims to be the ‘#1 dermatologist recommended suncare brand,’ yet all four products highlighted on Neutrogena’s suncare web page rate 7, in the red – worst – zone in our database.”

That’s not all: The brand’s “Pure & Free Baby” sunscreen claims “special protection from the sun and irritating chemicals” and that it’s “hypoallergenic,” “but it contains a preservative called methylisothiazolinone, or MI, that some researchers call a potent allergen and that is deemed unsafe in Europe.”

Pretty bad. And it gets worse from there: One product in particular, the Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 70+, is full toxic chemicals, EWG says.

The sunscreen is formulated with retinyl palmitate, a type of Vitamin A that may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when paired with sunlight and oxybenzone, another possible toxin.

Says EWG: “Aerosolized droplets could push sunscreen chemicals deep into the lungs where they could irritate lung tissue or pass into the bloodstream.” What’s worse, the aerosol format doesn’t allow for a thick, even coating of sunscreen, basically defeating the purpose of wearing sunblock in the first place.

Neutrogena isn’t the only drugstore offender. Other beach bag staples like Banana Boat and Coppertone ranked extremely low on EWG’s report, many chock full of chemicals that are banned in Europe for their potential health risks. Neutrogena hasn’t yet responded to the damning report.

So what’s a sun-loving girl to do?

First, check out EWG’s exhaustive list of the good, the bad, and the ugly and make sure to read all about the brands and products listed in the hall of shame.

Tips for picking out a good sunscreen? Avoid the spray-on kind: convenient as it is, you can inhale it, and that means that the chemicals can be ingested in ways that aren’t so great. Don’t buy anything with an SPF over 50, because it doesn’t actually offer any more protection. Also avoid anything with the chemicals oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate, both really nasty ones that are bad for you in the long run.

Some of the products listed as the best sunscreens cost a little more than drugstore brands (though some, like Bull Frog or Burt’s Bees, are not so bad), but better safe and protected than sorry. The good news? For those ladies who have Flexible Spending Accounts as part of their healthcare packages, sunscreen is a covered cost, meaning you can buy all the La Roche-Posay you want – tax free! Talk about a win-win. Now you have no excuse not to slather on sunscreen and stay safe.