Study: This Is the Safest, Most Effective Type of Sunscreen You Can Buy

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Forty-three percent of sunscreens tested by Consumer Reports didn’t live up to their SPF claim, according to a new report.

After testing 60 popular formulas, the watchdog group found that nearly half failed to offer the protection that their labels claimed. That’s bad news for all of us—but especially for kids and teens, considering the recent research that shows even one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life.

Add it to the list of things beach goers need to worry about when it comes to sun protection. According to the Environmental Working Group, common sunscreen additives like vitamin A (listed as retinyl palmitate on labels) and oxybenzone have been linked to an increased likelihood of developing skin tumors. Both EWG and the FDA caution against using spray sunscreens because they don’t provide a thick enough layer of protection and can be easily inhaled—not ideal for products laced with potentially harmful chemicals.

In an attempt to be as safe as possible, some people are turning to all-natural mineral sunscreens that rely on titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both as active ingredients. But even these products aren’t safe from criticism; Consumer Reports found that just 26 percent of mineral-only formulas held up to their SPF rating.

So should you:

  1. Expose yourself and your fam to potentially harmful chemicals to prevent future skin cancer
  2. Slather limbs in mineral-based formulas, and hope it doesn’t end badly
  3. Show up to the beach in long sleeves and leggings with zero skin showing
  4. Stop with the craziness and find a happy medium?

We’re going with the last option.

There are options out there that work without exposing your body to toxic chemicals. Look for formulas with avobenzone, homosalate, and octocrylene—all EWG-approved ingredients that offer chemical sun UV protection—in addition to physical protectants like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Sunscreens containing both have been proven to shield skin as effectively as their chemical-only counterparts, and because the chemicals mentioned have been deemed safe by the EWG you’re getting double protection (chemical and physical) without the same potentially dangerous side effects.

Regardless of what type of sunscreen you opt for this summer, be sure to reapply every two hours (or sooner if you’re sweating or swimming). For optimal protection, use one full ounce—enough to fill a shot glass—to cover your entire and face body.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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