Practise Safe Sunscreen: The 7 Sunscreen Mistakes You May Be Making

woman in sunlit field

We all know that sunscreen prevents sun burn and skin cancer.  But did you know that there is much more to sunscreen than that?

There are 7 common sunscreen mistakes that many of us make when it comes to picking our sunscreen.  If you want to truly banish the skin cancer danger when you’re out basking in the sun, then make sure you are not committing one of this ‘safe sunscreen mistakes’.

Want to stock up on sunscreen that has NO harmful chemicals, AND has UVA plus UVB protection?  See the Safe Sunscreen List at the bottom of this post for my Top 3 Safe Sunscreens (natural and/or organic, and they work super well).

Safe Sunscreen Mistake #1: Neglecting Your Face

If you’re at all like me when I was younger, you hesitate to put sunscreen on your face because it clogs up your pores and makes you break out like mad.

Or maybe you’re like my husband and don’t really think about your face much and consequently don’t suncreen it everyday before headed out the door.

Well, that, my friend, is one of the biggest sunscreen mistakes we all make: neglecting sunscreen on the face.

Our faces (and our hands, see below) are out there in the sun EVERY DAY.  Summer and winter.  On the drive to and from work, while walking the kids or the dog, while jogging, while walking to the coffee shop….

So how do you keep your face safe some UVA and UVB rays every single day?  Good news!  You’ve got options.

  1. Find a non-cosmedogenic sunscreen that’s light on your skin.  (Non-cosmedogenic, BTW, means ‘won’t clog your pores.)  Use it every day.
  2. Use a face lotion with SPF built right in.
  3. Use make-up with SPF built right in.

Safe Sunscreen Mistake #2: Neglecting Your Ears, Hands, and Feet

Be honest.  Do you put sunscreen on your ears, your hands, and your feet?  These are areas that we often neglect and they are the areas that have some of the highest incidences of cancer and sun spots.  (Ever wonder why, when people get older, they get damaged-looking hands?  It’s because your hands are out in the sun EVERY single day.)

Your ears and your hands are the parts of you that you may be most likely to forget.  Feet perhaps not so much, but I know that I used to forget to sunscreen my feet and would discover very dark sandal tans on my feet after a day outside.  So don’t burn your toes!  Sunscreen them too.

And while we’re on the topic of ears: hats are the best way to protect your ears and your face from the sun.  (Sun hats, not baseball caps.)  But if you’re going hatless, or wearing a baseball cap, don’t forget the backs of your ears and INSIDE your ears.  That’s right.  Those little spots that’s aren’t quite inside your ears (don’t go squirting sunscreen into your ears, please!) but that face the sun all the time.

Safe Sunscreen Mistake #3: Only Using Sunscreen in the Summer

It’s not just summertime that we’re bombarded with UVA and UVB rays from the sun.  Have you ever gone skiing, or saw a friend go skiing, and come back with a sunburnt face?

While the UVA and UVB rays may be more intense in the summer, especially for those places that have more extreme summers and winters (I’m from Canada, far from the equator, with -40C winters and +40C summers).  And, of course, we spend more time outside in the summer.  But if you spend a decent amount of time outside in ANY season, you should have some sunscreen on hand for your exposed parts.  It’s not just sunburn that we’re trying to prevent.  It’s cancer.

A low SPF, light on the skin sunscreen, or a lotion (face or body) with SPF built in is an excellent way to get sun protection in the non-summer months.

Safe Sunscreen Mistake #4: Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is a common ingredient in many sunscreens and it is a sunscreen mistake that you definitely want to avoid.

Some studies have linked oxybenzone to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and endocrine disruption.  It is also suspected to be bioaccumulative.  That means that it builds up in your system and doesn’t get flushed out.

Safe Sunscreen Mistake #5: Not Using CLEAN Ingredients

There are SO many ingredients in most sunscreens that can do more harm than good to your body.

Parabens are used as cheap preservatives in many skin care products and have been linked to a higher incidence of cancer.  They are also suspected hormone disruptors and have been shown to be a reproductive toxin in animal studies.

“Fragrance” is a catch-all term for unregulated synthetic chemicals.  “Fragrance” often contains phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors.  Long term exposure can causse liver and kidney damage.

PEG compounds are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a suspected human carcinogen.  (That means that it may causes cancer.)

Nitrosamines (anything labelled MEA, DEA, or TEA) are identified as one of the most potent classes of carcinogens.  (That means that they very likely cause cancer.)  In fact, nitrosamines have caused cancer in more than 40 different animals species and human in numerous studies.

Safe Sunscreen Mistake #6: Relying on High SPF

You may think that using SPF 60 sunscreen makes you twice as safe as using SPF 30, but that is simply not the case.

EWG lays out 5 very good reasons for NOT choosing a high SPF sunscreen.

  1. Higher SPF means that you can stay out in the sun longer without reapplying.  It does NOT mean that you get more sun protection.  SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98% of sunburn rays, while SPF 100 blocks 99%.  A marginal difference.
  2. The chemicals that form a product’s SPF are aimed at blocking out UVB rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancers.  UVA rays, however, are not blocked by many of these SPF chemicals.  UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, can surpress the immune system, and are associated with higher risk of developing melanoma skin cancer.
  3. High SPF may not really be high SPF.  Proctor & Gamble conducted a series of tests on a competitors sunscreen.  The results gave an SPF of between 37 and 75.  The difference was not a result of the product but of various factors in the testing.  That means that an SPF 60 product may in fact have a much lower SPF.
  4. People tend to misuse high SPF products.  Philippe Autier, a scientist with the World Health Organization, conducted 2 studies that showed that popel tend to spend more time in the sun when using high SPF products than when using low SPF products.  Some people will stay out far past the point where the SPF ‘wears down’ and get the UVB sunburn.  Spending more time in the sun also means that you expose yourself to more UVA rays, not blocked by many sunscreens.
  5. High SPF products require higher concentrations of sun-blocking chemicals that have been linked to allergic reactions, tissue damage, and hormone disruption.

(For more on the Science of High SPF sunscreens, see this EWG article.)

What’s the best active ingredient for your sunscreen?  Zinc oxide is a non-toxic, natural ingredient that physically locks both UVA and UVB rays.  Products that use zinc oxide generally don’t come in a higher SPF than 30.

Safe Sunscreen Mistake #7: Retinyl Palmitate & Vitamin A

While Vitamin A is an essential nutrient in a balanced diet, too much vitamin A can lead to a host of health problems.

Vitamin A is added to many skin products as an antioxidant because manufacturers believe that it slows aging.  Too much vitamin A, including retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate, can cause a variety of health problems, including liver damage, brittle nails, hair loss, osteoporosis and hip fractures in older adults.  It can also cause serious birth defects in a developing fetus.

(Want to see the science behind this?  Check out this EWG article.)

The best way to avoid possible vitamin A toxicity from your summer skin products?  Consult the Safe Sunscreen List below, or check your own bottle and make sure to avoid retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinoic acid.

safe sunscreen + sunglasses + sea shells

Safe Sunscreen List

Every sunscreen listed on this Safe Sunscreen list is free of the harmful chemicals that you want to avoid and they protect against UVA and UVB rays.

Miessence Reflect Outdoor Balm– certified organic, rated SPF 15 (tested at SPF 29.5, but since this product is manufactured in an organic facility, and not an SPF-rated facility, they can’t label higher than SPF 15), $30.95 (plus 10-40% bulk discount)

JuiceBeauty.com  Sport Sunscreen  – SPF 30, $16.00, water resistant

100% Pure Spray + Stick – SPF 30, $35

100% Pure Green Tea Oil Free Hydration – SPF 30, $35, great for oily skin (and all skin types)

Want something else?

Take this list with you next time you’re at the pharmacy or the health food store.  This is the list of Chemicals To Avoid in Skin Care Products (a.k.a. Sunscreen).  Make sure what you’re about to buy doesn’t have…

  • “fragrance”, “parfum”, DBP, or DEP
  • anything that has MEA, DEA, or TEA in its name
  • anything that has ‘PEG’ in its name
  • retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate
  • oxybenzone
  • parabens
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Rebecca

I am a Ph.D. candidate at McMaster University, a twin mommy, and a health and wellness entrepreneur. I am in the process of building a sustainable online business to support my family, and helping others to build sustainable businesses themselves. Find me on Google+.

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