As a kid, my favorite holiday was Memorial Day. I had a vague sense of the deeper meanings, but back then it was all about opening day of the neighborhood pool. Nothing said summer like the first day at the pool. The aroma of hot dogs on the grill, inflatable toys of all shapes and sizes,...all of this meant fun in the sun had officially begun! Sentimental feelings of summers past has me thinking of the summer season knocking at our door. As you get your plans in order and summer trip supplies lined up, make sure not to forget one of the most important parts of summer: sunscreen!

Ah, sunscreen. We all know we ought to use it every day, and for those of us who only use it when the sun comes out, now is the time to buck up and apply (and reapply every two hours or after a swim for that matter).  However, taking a trip down that isle in your local grocer will have you overwhelmed with options. With all of the possibilities, I figured we should start the summer off right with a little sunscreen tutorial.

The biggest point of difference is chemical (sunscreen) vs. physical (sunblock). To keep it simple, chemical sunscreens are the most readily available. The common chemicals used include: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Most commonly, they are used in combination.  These chemical based sunscreens work by absorbing into the skin and releasing the UV rays in a harmless way. Recently, there has been an increased amount of skepticism about the safety of these chemicals, especially for lactating women and children. According to the Environmental Working Group, oxybenzone absorbs into the skin and is cited in several scientific studies for being a potential hormone disruptor. For this reason, they have ranked it on as an 8 on a 10 scale for toxicity!

Physical blocks on the other hand act as a barrier between the skin and the sun. The most commonly used materials are zinc and titanium dioxide. Recently, these natural formulas have been garnering a great amount of attention due to their effectiveness and relative safety. Also, with recent advances in technology these formulas are much easier to apply, minimizing the appearance of chalky white residue. Please note, nanoparticles (dangerous particles that are able to absorb into skin) have been a concern, but nearly all natural brands are labeled nano-free. However, when in doubt look to another brand. Most mineral based formulas are also considered safer is due to the fact they are not absorbed by the skin. In the same Environmental Working Group list topical application of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as a 2 on the 10 scale.

Bottom line, chemical or physical, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun. With all of the options out there, hopefully this little tutorial makes it easy to find the right product for you. No matter what you decide just be sure to apply, and reapply every two or more hours depending on the activity. Also, if after reading this you say to yourself, “oh I have a tube in the medicine cabinet from last year”, be sure to check the expiration are only guaranteed to be effective up to the “use by” date on the tube. 

Cheers to fun in the sun!

For more information about the safety of sunscreen, and any household beauty product check out the Environmental Working Group’s website.

And for a list of Prevention's safest sun care products, click here! 

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