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A recent report released by the Environmental Working Group has sunscreen wearers scrambling to get accurate information on how to protect themselves from skin cancer. The report states that 80 percent of the 1700 sunscreens they tested in the 9th annual edition of their Sunscreen Guide do not actually protect the skin, in fact, many contain harmful ingredients that can be detrimental to your overall health.

Neutrogena, a brand that is recognized by American households, was hit especially hard. The report dispels the company’s claims that they are ‘the #1 dermatologist rated sunscreen,’ and reveals the dangerous ingredients in their products, including oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (a type of vitamin A), which can lead to skin damage and potentially skin cancer.

Other mainstream brands were not forgotten; the report also mentions brands such as Coppertone (owned by Bayer Crop Science) and Banana Boat, and exposes spray sunscreen as not only ineffective, but potentially dangerous.

This leaves many people wondering how to safely protect themselves from the sun, and whether it is worth the risk of wearing sunscreen, which contains harmful chemicals.

Despite the grim picture that the report paints of sunscreen, health experts stress how important it is to protect your skin from rays. Skin cancer is one of the leading types of cancer in the United States and the rates have nearly tripled since the 1970’s. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer has been on the rise as well.  While many understand that exposure to the sun can lead to cancer, many people still do not protect themselves.

“Anyone can get skin cancer, so everyone should take steps to protect themselves from the sun,” Marc Lebwohl, MD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology.

No one is immune; if you’re outside unprotected, you are exposing yourself to harmful rays that can cause irreversible damage. Here are some tips on how to choose the safest and most effective types of sunscreen and other ways to protect yourself from the sun.

1) Choose a safe sunscreen: When choosing a safe sunscreen, ingredients matter. Choosing a safe sunscreen involves reading labels and understanding what ingredients are safe and which ones are harmful.

  • Avoid chemical-based sunscreens: The main ingredients to avoid are oxybenzone, and Retinyl palminate, which is a type of vitamin A.
  • Choose mineral-based sunscreen: These sunscreens mostly contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals block harmful rays, but the sunscreen does not penetrate the skin like a chemical-based sunscreen. Usually, natural sunscreens are mineral-based, so that is a good place to start your search.
  • Choose sunscreens labeled as broad spectrum. For many years, UVB rays were believed to be the most important thing to protect ourselves against, since they are the main culprits behind nasty sunburns. Research has now revealed that UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply and can cause just as much (if not more) damage. Regular SPF sunscreens protect against UVB, but not UVA rays. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both.

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2) Tips for sunscreen application: How and where you apply sunscreen does matter. Follow these simple tips to make sure you are maximizing your sunscreen use and minimizing the risk of sun exposure.

  • Always apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going into the sun. This will give the sunscreen enough time to absorb.
  • Reapply often. Many people believe that they can put on sunscreen and experience all day protection. In fact, you should reapply every couple of hours for the best results.
  • Don’t forget sensitive areas: People often overlook certain body parts when applying sunscreen. Don’t forget to protect areas such as the ears, scalp, lips, feet, and hands. The face, neck, and chest should always be protected, even if you’ll just be in the sun for a short amount of time.

3) Protect yourself from the sun in other ways: There are other ways to protect yourself from harmful sun rays aside from applying sunscreen.

  • Cover up: Cover your skin with long-sleeved clothing, hats, and sunglasses. In hot summer months, find breathable long sleeved items that will keep your skin safe in the heat.
  • Choose shade: Wherever possible, choose to relax in the shade rather then the sun. Going to the beach? Bring a beach umbrella. At the park? Find a shady tree to relax under. If you do choose to relax in the sun, it should be for short amounts of time, with sunscreen, and not during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Check UV reports: A UV report will show you the intensity of UV rays on a given day. A day with a high UV index is a great day to avoid the beach and instead enjoy an indoor activity.


Lizzy Leighty is a writer with a passion for healthy living and traveling the world. Most recently, her travels have taken her to Nicaragua where she writes about nutrition, health, and travel, and works part time for a small non-profit. She is the owner of the food and travel blog Wandering Roots Kitchen.

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