Memorial Day is the unofficial kick off to summer, when our calendars fill up with beach days and we begin the obligatory slopping on of sunscreen.
Whether you're putting it on yourself or someone else, the importance of sunscreen has been drilled into most of us from an early age. But choosing a bottle to throw in your beach bag can be pretty overwhelming. We have more products to choose from, each with different claims such as "broad spectrum" or "UVB protection." For 10 years, the Environmental Working Group has published a list of the best and worst products for shielding against the sun's harsh rays. Here are some key takeaways, followed by the 2016 list.
Many products offer poor protection. This year, the group looked at more than 750 products and concluded that nearly 75 percent of them offered poor protection or had ingredients the group found "worrisome." For example, oxybenzone is a sunscreen additive that the working group says is a hormone disrupter and allergen.
Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group, says it's a good thing that the number of mineral-only products has doubled since 2007, rising from 17 percent of products to 34 percent in 2016. These sunscreens, which offer protection against both UVA and UVB, generally don't contain harmful additives.
We are still waiting for those SPF 50+ rules. While we no longer see claims like "sweat proof" and "waterproof" on sunscreen (the FDA said they were too far-reaching), the agency's proposed regulation that would cap SPF numbers at 50+ hasn't kicked in yet. In 2011, the FDA stated that anything higher than that number is "inherently misleading." In this year's report, the Environmental Working Group found that 61 sunscreen products had an SPF higher than 50, as opposed to just 10 products in 2007. (We've reported about sunscreen companies' misleading claims in the past, and my colleague Kiera Butler wrote about some ingredients that may actually speed up the development of skin cancer.)
Spray-on sunscreen may offer less protection. Because spray-on sunscreens evaporate quickly, Lunder said, it's hard to tell if you've covered your whole body.
"We think, 'I can get it on my kids faster,'" she said. "But that really doesn't hold up in the real world, there's evidence that they aren't using as much and aren't getting that thickness on their skin."
The important thing to remember, the group says, is that sunscreen alone won't do the job, and that we tend to give it more importance than we should. Hats, sunglasses, time in the shade and other essentials are also key for protecting against sun damage.
Here's is the group's list of the best and worst sunscreens of 2016:
(In no particular order)
The Best Beach and Sport sunscreens
The organization rated sunscreens from 1 to 10 (products with 1's were excellent and ones with 10's were the worst). Just over 60 brands received a score of 1 or 2. These were designated "low hazard" for their ingredient list and because they had a good balance of SPF and UVA protection. Find the full list here.
The Best for Kids
The Worst for Kids
On the 1 to 10 scale, the below products scored a 7 or higher (with 10 being the worst) because they made high SPF claims or had higher amounts of the additives oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.
**This was the only product that got a 10.