Posted: Jul 17, 2012 9:00 AM
Did you know that just one blistering sunburn in childhood can double the risk of deadly melanoma? For many families, sunscreen is the go-to first line of defense against burns. Lately, however, the internet is abuzz with reports that many sunscreens -- which families everywhere are slathering on this summer to ward off sun damage and skin cancer -- might be doing more harm than good.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group that lobbies Capitol Hill (from issues like pesticides to BPA bans), recently published claims that many sunscreens aren't as safe as consumers might think. They cited a host of concerns, from exaggerated SPF claims, to questionable chemicals and findings that vitamin A in sunscreens (coupled with light exposure) may actually accelerate the growth of skin tumors.

Only 1 in 4 products passed the EWG's standards to earn a spot on their guide.

EWG reviewed more than 262 studies and examined the labels of 1,800 products for their 2012 Sunscreen Guide. Only one in four products passed the EWG's standards to earn a spot on their guide. If you're not sure if the chemicals in your family's sunscreen are safe, keep reading for sun protection tips and EWG-approved sunscreens that make the grade for any age!

Sun safety

Here are a few tips from the EWG to help you sift through the sunscreen aisles:

  • Choose sunscreens with these active ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or 3 percent avobenzone.
  • Avoid products with vitamin A, retinyl palmitate and retinol. EWG claims that data from an FDA cancer study shows skin tumor growth may be accelerated when retinyl palmitate and other forms of vitamin A are used on skin in the presence of sunlight.
  • Opt for sunscreen creams or lotions over sprays or powders.

While the EWG did identify several concerns, they also found that products made specifically for children tend to use more safe and effective ingredients than products created for the general public. Children's products are less likely to contain oxybenzone (according to EWG, a hormone-disrupting chemical) and were less likely to contain fragrance (made from often-undisclosed mixtures of chemicals).

EWG-recommended sunscreens

CAlifornia Baby

California Baby Everyday/Year-round Sunscreen Stick


SPF 30+

A PABA-free, non-chemical sunscreen stick made with titanium dioxide.
(California Baby, $15)

Kiss My face

Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Sunscreen with Hydresia


SPF 40

A mineral formula with green tea leaf extract, vitamins C, D and E and no artificial fragrances.
(Kiss My Face, $17)

Think Baby

ThinkBaby Sunscreen Benefiting Livestrong


SPF 50+ 

This sunscreen is fast-absorbing, water resistant and features rosemary and jojoba seed oil among its natural ingredients.
(Target, $16)

La Roche

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 Sunscreen Cream


SPF 40 

A fast-absorbing, dry finish formula with Mexoryl: The first new sun filter approved in a sunscreen by the FDA in more than 18 years.
(Dermstore, $35)

EWG also points out that consumers shouldn't use sunscreens as their first or only line of defense. Seeking shade, avoiding peek-hour sun exposure and wearing sun-protective clothing (like sunglasses and hats) are among the other safeguards that can keep you safe without exposing your skin to chemicals.

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