Find the Most Effective Sunscreens with EWG's 2016 Sunscreen Guide

June 7, 2016

Fun in the sun at the beachSummer is almost here, and that means you and your family will spend a lot of time outside—at the beach, by the pool, playing sports, or enjoying the outdoors. It goes without saying that your family needs adequate sun protection. While the only sure-fire way for you and your family to avoid all the sun's damaging UV rays is by covering up with shirts and hats and hanging out in the shade, that may not always be an option, so we need to resort to using sunscreen. What would summer be, after all, without the ritual of slathering up the children with gobs of UV-blocking goo?

While many sunscreens promise a lot to the consumer (especially those with sky-high SPF 50+ ratings), do they really deliver the protection the advertise? Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group's 2016 Sunscreen Guide is available to help sort the good sunscreens from those that won't help much.

The 203 top-rated beach-and-sport sunscreens (out of 753 tested by EWG) are all mineral based, containing either titanium or zinc. Non-mineral based alternatives, while often having a smell or texture preferable to the mineral based sunscreens, didn't fare nearly as well—the EWG only ecommends 38 out of the 435 it tested. Fortunately, more manufacturers are switching to mineral-based formulas now, so there are more offerings to choose from. The EWG also takes a look at moisturizers and lip balms with SPF.

Many sunscreens contained harmful chemicals in the forms of oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen and potential hormone disruptor, or vitamin A, which may actually accelerate the development of damage and tumors to sun-exposed skin. Many of them don't even work all that well, having only moderate or poor UVA protection.

None of the EWG's recommended sunscreens are in spray, powder, or towelette form. Many of these products contain carcinogenic chemicals which may be harmful if accidentally inhaled, so they should be avoided, especially when used with children, or don't contain enough sunscreen to be effective. Ultra-high SPF sunscreens (50+ and more) are also something to watch out for, since they can give users a false sense of security that may lead them to stay in the sun longer than they should. Find out what not to bring on vacations in the EWG's list of worst-scoring sunscreens for kids.

EWG's 2016 Sunscreen Guide contains much more than product ratings. It's also a wealth of information about sun exposure and how it relates to your health, as well as the complex world of sunscreens and how they protect your skin from UV exposure (or don't). The upshot of all this research is: stay out of the sun, if you can. But if you have to find a healthy effective sunscreen, this guide is a good place to start.