Don’t Get Burned by the Sunscreen Aisle

How to make informed choices about sun protection

Temperatures are climbing and the sun is shining, which means it’s time to think about sun protection. If you’re like most parents, the thought of braving the sunscreen aisle––with all those ingredients you can’t pronounce and labels filled with marketing jargon––makes you shudder. How do you choose the sun protection product that’s safe for your child?

Who’s on your side?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization dedicated to empowering consumers to make informed choices, and the FDA, a governmental regulatory body, are working on your behalf. This year the FDA, with the support of the EWG, has undertaken two major initiatives to make sunscreen safer and easier to use: updated regulatory requirements and more rigorous testing of ingredients. New rules would make life easier for consumers by introducing clearer labeling standards and capping SPF claims at 60, because, according to the FDA, claims of SPF ratings higher than 50, which don’t provide substantially more protection, can mislead consumers.  

Proposed ingredient research will focus on potential harmful effects and rates of absorption into the skin. Currently only two active ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, have been definitively ruled effective and safe, leaving crucial gaps in data concerning the effect of other chemicals used in sunscreen. Oxybenzone, for example, is widely used in sunscreens, but testing has indicated it is easily absorbed through the skin and is a potential hormone disruptor.

Making the best choice

If all this has left you wondering how to keep your kids protected from the sun and sunscreen this summer, have no fear. The EWG just released its 2019 Guide to Sunscreens, designed to help you make informed choices about preventative sun care. Here are the highlights.


  • Spray sunscreens; they’re less effective and kids can easily inhale harmful chemicals.
  • SPF greater than 50.
  • Ingredients like oxybenzone, fragrance, retinol palmitate, vitamin A.

Look for:

  • Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients.
  • SPF 15-SPF 50 and reapply often.
  • Broad spectrum protection.

You can also check out the products from the EWG’s Best Rated Sunscreens for Kids list.

Sunscreen as a last resort: Other ways to stay safe

According to the EWG’s Sun Safety Tips, the best way to avoid a sunburn is covering up and staying out of direct sun! Find a shady spot, whether that’s under a tree or an umbrella you brought from home. Try to avoid being in the sun in mid-afternoon, when UV rays are strongest. Check the UV index and plan time outside for when levels are low. Buy your son or daughter a fun, long-sleeved rash guard top to wear to the pool or beach and help them pick out a cool hat and sunglasses.

Now you’re armed with practical ways to take on the summer sun, without missing out on summer fun. Give your kids a happy, healthy, and sunburn free summer by using your knowledge to plan your summer sun strategy.

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