Is Sunscreen Causing More Harm Than Good?

For years, it’s been preached that everyone, especially children, should wear sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun. And for the most part, people do. You can’t be on a public beach for more than 10 minutes before seeing a mother lather her squirmy child from head to toe in Coppertone.

She thinks she’s protecting the kid, but really, she may be putting him at a higher risk.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released its new report on the risks of sunscreen. The non-profit, non-partisan group analyzed 1,700 sunscreen lotions, moisturizers, and lip balms available in the US and found that only 21 percent were safe and effective.

Hazardous Chemicals

Most of the chemical based sunscreens tested by the EWG were found to contain hazardous materials. Oxybenzone, which is found in many chemical sunscreens, penetrates the skin and can cause severe allergic reactions. It also disrupts the hormone cycle, and has been associated with an increased risk of endometriosis and a low birth weight in female babies. Retinyl palitate, another common chemical, has been linked with certain types of skin cancers.

Misleading Information

Another issue the EWG discussed was the misleading information many sunscreens print on labels. When talking about SPF, the actual benefit maxs out somewhere between 30 and 50. That means the SPF 70 you’ve been slathering onto your toddler isn’t doing anything more than one half its “strength.” The watch group also found, while many sunscreens protected against UVB rays, there were some that had no UVA block. The organization recommends using a full spectrum sunscreen, as UVA rays are known to cause an increased risk of melanoma.

How to Protect Yourself

Instead of automatically reaching for the sunscreen every time you go outside, make sunscreen a backup strategy. Try to limit your time outside during the hottest hours of the day. When you are outside, cover up with a light, long sleeved shirt and wear a sun hat. Stay in the shade when possible and wear sunglasses to help protect your eyes, which can also be damaged from the sun.

If you’re going to use a sunscreen, opt for a mineral sunscreen. These sunscreens contain zinc oxide, which does not penetrate the skin and is very effective in its protection.

What to Avoid

Avoid sunscreens that come in a spray bottle. Not only do areas of the skin get missed with the aerosol cans, but there is also a risk of inhalation. Avoid anything over SPF 50, and those products containing oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate. Here’s part of the list published by the EWG of sunscreens to avoid:

  • Banana Boat Clear UltraMist Ultra Defense MAX Skin Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance AccuSpray Sunscreen, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance Clear Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100+
  • Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
  • Banana Boat Clear UltraMist Kids Max Protect & Play Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
  • Coppertone Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Beach & Pool Sunblock Spray, SPF 70
Photo Credit: Audrey Sparks / Article Cats Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Audrey Sparks / Article Cats Staff Writer

If you live in or around the Portland area you could also check out Crunchytown Naturals. This local company offers an organic sunscreen called Fun in the Sun. The ingredients include shea butter, zinc oxide, and beeswax, among other organic ingredients. A natural alternative could be just the ticket to staying healthy in the sun.


How do you protect yourself from the sun? Have you used any of these sunscreens in the past and had a bad reaction? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Additional Image: Coley Cheng/Flickr



Molly Carter
Molly Carter
Molly is a freelance writer who talks about everything and anything from addiction, to sex. to skinning a deer. You can find her at, or Facebook.