Choosing the Best Sunscreen for Summer

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From SPF to UVB, sifting through the lingo to pick the best sunscreen for your kids can be overwhelming. There are thousands of products on the market — where do you start? Here are some quick tips for choosing the perfect sun protection.

Is higher SPF really better?

When properly applied, sunscreen at SPF 30-50 protects you from about 98% of UVB rays. Compare this to SPF 100, which protects you from 99% of UVB rays. The difference in results is pretty negligible. SPF also tells you nothing about UVA rays, which are less responsible for sunburns and more responsible for the development of melanoma.

In the long run, you won’t notice better protection from SPF 100 than SPF 50. Your best bet? Anything 30+ should do the trick for UVB. As for UVA, check to see if your sunscreen provides full spectrum protection.

No matter what, sunscreen should not be your first line of defense. The best protection from all UV rays is shade — hats, sunglasses, and avoiding direct sunlight when the sun is at its strongest.

What chemicals should I look out for?

In regards to the main chemicals to avoid or limit in your choice of sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a helpful table that outlines the common chemical and mineral components in sunscreen. 

The mineral-based sunscreens with zinc or titanium oxide fall into the lowest toxicity level. However, these are the minerals that give you that classic ghost-like look. If you really can’t stand the white film, products with avobenzone are also solid choices (and can be found on the non-mineral list on EWG’s site).

Can regular application of sunscreen decrease Vitamin D absorption?

Yes. The American Academy of Dermatology’s 2009 Position Statement concluded that “there is no scientifically validated, safe threshold level of UV exposure from the sun that allows for maximal Vitamin D synthesis without increasing skin cancer risk.” They recommend that you seek out your daily dose of Vitamin D from diet and supplements instead. Going outside early or late in the day when the sun’s rays are least powerful also may be a safer option.

When in the water or sweating, do I need to use a different sunscreen?

Sports sunscreen is your best bet if you’ll be working up a sweat or playing in the waves. Remember that no sunscreen lasts all day — be sure to reapply often!

If you’re still struggling to make the safest choice, check out the EWG’s product rankings. They’ve listed the best picks for both mineral and non-mineral sunscreens. 

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