Keep your kids (and yourself) safe in the sun with the EWG Guide to Sunscreens

sunburned arm
CC BY 2.0 Chelsea Marie Hicks

Your sunscreen may be doing more harm than good, as some 75% of sunscreens either fail to live up to their claims or contain sketchy ingredients.

Last year, we brought you the rather unsettling news from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that 80% of sunscreens are either ineffective or potentially harmful, and while we'd love to tell you that's all sorted now, the fact is that the wool continues to be pulled over our eyes.

Most sunscreens, on the whole, are a waste of money (because they don't perform as advertised), expose ourselves and our kids to harmful ingredients, and can end up increasing our risk of sun damage because we may get too much sun on our skin due to our belief that we're protected by these products.

"Young children are especially vulnerable to sun damage. Only a few blistering sunburns in childhood can double the chance a person will develop skin cancer over a lifetime." - Curt DellaValle, EWG senior scientist and cancer researcher

That's the bad news. The good news is that EWG has your back, thanks to its 10 consecutive years of screening hundreds of different sunscreen products, and its latest guide will help you make the best sun protection decisions for you and your loved ones.

First, it's important to note that sunscreen should be our last line of defense against sun damage, as there are other, more effective ways to minimize sun exposure without having to resort to slathering on the sunscreen. First, we can cover up more, by wearing a hat (with a brim that shades the face, neck, and ears), wearing adequate clothing (covering up exposed skin can reduce sun damage risk by about 27%), staying in the shade when possible (especially during the time of day when the sun's rays are most intense), wearing sunglasses (both adults and children), and avoiding outdoor activities when the UV Index is high.

That said, it's not always possible or preferable to be fully covered up or stay in the shade, so in addition to the above tips, applying a safe and effective sunscreen to exposed skin can help to lessen the potential damage from the sun's rays. When shopping for sunscreen, start with this list of 203 beach and sport sunscreen products that meet EWG's criteria, or this list of EWG's recommended 22 best sunscreen lotions for kids.

Additionally, go through your bathroom and/or beach bag and ditch any of the sunscreens on EWG's list of 13 of the worst-scoring sunscreens for babies and children. These sunscreens are rated low because they either contain dubious ingredients (such as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate), or they are in aerosol form (which may unnecessarily expose kids' lungs to harmful chemicals), or they have SPF ratings that are so high as to lead us to believe that they protect the skin from long sun exposure (when in fact they only protect against UVB rays, not the also potentially damaging UVA rays, which penetrate the skin and may lead to premature aging of the skin or skin cancer).

"About half the sunscreen products sold in the U.S. wouldn’t pass the more stringent European standards because they don’t filter enough UVA rays." - Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst

If you've got questions about the safety of your sunscreen, or why certain ingredients may be causing more harm than good, EWG's website has a wealth of information about this timely topic.

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