While recent research shows that a little sun exposure each day may benefit your health, most experts suggest that you protect yourself if you plan to spend long stretches in the sun.
The problem is, many sunscreen products contain harmful chemicals, and some are not as effective as they seem, says Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the Washington, D.C.---based Environmental Working Group. To help you find a good sunscreen, Lunder offers this advice:
* Beware a "50+" SPF. According to the FDA, no reliable research has shown that sun protection factors above 50 offer significantly better protection than those with a 50 SPF value. Such super-high SPF products can lull you into a false sense of security.
* Look for UVA protection on the label. Almost all sunscreens are great at blocking sunburn-causing UVB rays. But for protection against the far more damaging UVA rays, which can cause malignant melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer), choose mineral-based sunscreens rather than their chemical counterparts.
* Avoid spray or powder sunscreens with titanium dioxide. Mineral-based sunscreens often contain titanium dioxide, which is considered potentially carcinogenic if it reaches the bloodstream. Because spray and powder sunscreens are more easily inhaled (and, hence, more directly accessible to the bloodstream), opt for lotions, which are considered safer, when choosing a mineral-based option.
* Avoid oxybenzone. Stay away from sunscreens that contain this active ingredient, which has been linked to allergic reactions and potential hormone disruption. It is particularly harmful for children and has been linked to low infant birth weight.
If you want to see how the products you already have in your cabinet stack up, visit the EWG Sunscreen Guide.