Sunscreen Do’s & Don’ts and How to Choose Non-Toxic and Reef-Safe Sunscreens

Now that Spring has started with sunny days, flowers blooming and nature blossoming again, it is important to not forget to apply sunscreen. And yes, you do need to apply it in the winter as well, so props to you if you have been doing that diligently. If not, you’re starting right away after reading this post!Here are a few Do’s and Dont’s when it comes to sunscreen:

DO’s:

  1. Check the ingredients of your sunscreen.
    Follow this link from The Environmental Working Group to find the updated version of the sunscreen guide. The guide lists effectiveness ratings of 1700 sunscreens, information about sun exposure and skin cancer and a detailed breakdown of what we should and shouldn’t be looking for in a sunscreen. Look for ingredients such as Zinc, Titanium Dioxide, and Mexoryl SX, all of which are powerful UVA blockers.
  2. Sunscreens with SPF60 and higher don’t always do a more effective job of blocking harmful rays.  It’s important to look for a sunscreen that offers protection against UVA and UVB rays and also has a seal of approval by the Skin Cancer Foundation or the American Academy of Dermatology.
  3. Choose a long-lasting sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays. But don’t forget to reapply often as it does ware off throughout the day depending on what you’re doing. Even waterproof sunscreens eventually wash off, and all sunscreens can be easily rubbed off by towels, persperation, sand, and clothes.
  4. No one is necessarily immune to UVA or UVB rays, not even Wolverine from X-Men. Hugh Jackman, in 2015, opened up about his treatment for basal cell carcinoma (BCC). Though it is the mildest form of skin cancer, it is still serious nonetheless. I believe being an avid surfer, traveller and actor who is likely shooting a lot outdoors in sunny destinations, the exposure to the sun eventually caught up to him. Apply your sunscreen everyday. It’s easy to reach for sunscreen on sunny days, but it is so important to use sunscreen on cloudy days, as it is quite easy to burn on the cloudiest of days too. Clouds only block 20% of UV rays. Did you know that the windows from your car don’t offer protection against the harmful rays of the sun?! Or the windows of your office building unless it is specifically tinted or treated glass? In general, it is good to apply sunscreen if you’re going to be exposed to the sun for an extended period of time.
  5. Safe the reefs by using safe sunscreens free from oxybenzone and octinoxate. Beginning in 2021, the state of Hawaii will ban the sale of sunscreens, containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, (read the full CNN article here) since both can lead to coral bleaching, deformities, and even death. In addition to oxybenzone and octinoxate, there is a much longer list of marine pollutants, including many UV filters, and preservatives. If you are swimming close to coral reefs, please stay away from products containing these chemicals.
  6. Applying your sunscreen is your last resort of protection from harmful UVA/UVB rays. Make sure you do the following before going into the sun;
  • Wear protective clothing, a sunhat, sunglasses etc.
  • Avoid the sun on the hottest hours from 12-3pm when feasible
  • Find or make some shade and when going to the beach, bring a beach umbrella
  • Check the UV index before you go into the sun 

DON’Ts

  1. Do not waste money on sunscreen with a SPF higher than 50. According to the FDA, there is no evidence that a product with a SPF higher than 50 provides better protection against harmful rays. On the contrary, they may actually make you feel overconfident and less likely to reapply your sunscreen. Make sure you apply your SPF 15-30+ daily. If you plan to be outdoors for an extended period of time, use a SPF 30+
  2. Avoid sunscreen with Vitamin A. Don’t use any skin or lip product whose label includes Retinyl Palmitate, Retinol or Vitamin A. Also, avoid Oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and can disrupt the hormone system. Government data show that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams laced with Vitamin A, also called Retinyl Palmitate or Retinol. Instead look for products with Zinc Oxide, 3 percent avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. They protect skin from harmful UVA radiation.
  3. Although it’s common to wait until arriving at the beach or outdoor destination, use your sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading outdoors to allow it to absorb into the skin and offer the best protection.
  4. It can be easy to apply sunscreen to the face, arms, and legs, but don’t forget your lips, ears, and even top of your feet (Yes…I am speaking from experience -_- ). And while spray sunscreens can be applied quickly, you can easily miss spots of your skin, besides that, spray sunscreens can be harmful to breathe in. The Environmental Working Group says that they don’t provide an even and thick enough layer of sunscreen on the skin to properly protect it and although the product may be labeled as waterproof, it can still wear off in 30 minutes. You might want to skip this kind of sunscreen and stick to one you apply by hand.

And don’t forget sunscreen is your last resort, protect yourself from harmful UV rays during the hottest hours of the day. It’s healthy to get small doses of that Vitamin D, but remember as with everything in life, moderation is key!


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