Sunality’s Sunscreen Shopping Survival Guide

Lately I have been getting a ton of questions about sunscreen: which to buy, what to avoid, best for kids, all natural vs. chemicals, etc…  I completely understand.  At first I thought, the more the better because when I started my new sunality, I didn’t know about all the other products available to shield me from UVA and UVB rays.  Additionally, I didn’t have a full awareness of how many hidden chemicals I was coming into contact with on a daily basis through my food, drinks, cosmetics and cleaning products.

It's all so overwhelming.  This is 50% of the sunscreen isle at my local Target.

It’s all so overwhelming. This is 50% of the sunscreen isle at my local Target.

As my consumer awareness increased, I went through the phases of change: shock, fear, confusion, education, and finally change.  You know those phases.  They might be veiled in phrases like, “you have got to be kidding me,” “i’ve been eating what,” “why do they even put that crap into my food,” “where do I even start,” “I thought I was doing the right things,” “there is too much to think about, I’m just going to ignore all of this,” and on and on.

My awareness about foods started the moment those two pink lines appeared on the pregnancy test.  All of a sudden I had a higher purpose to take care of myself and I was also responsible for the health and well being of the little creature inside of me.  My choices changed lives.  I finally felt vulnerable.  Of course, 18-months later, I was reminded about those choices changing lives when I was diagnosed with cancer.  Treatable, survivable cancer but that just meant more changes and more vulnerability.

That new reality, my Sunality, made me realize I had to look at all the choices I was making in my life that brought more chemicals into my body.  And that brings us back to sunscreen.  Here are my thoughts based on the last four years of trial and error and change.

1.  More is not better.  In this case, less is the way to go.  Cover as much skin as possible with UPF clothing and use sunscreen only where still exposed.  Seek shade during the high sun hours and wear hats.

Our new go-to for the kiddos.

Our new go-to for the kiddos.

2. The all natural stuff is a bear to use on kids… they wiggle and scream and the whole time you are trying to buff white zinc into their delicate little skin.  I gave up and bought a ton of rash guards and UPF swim gear, cover ups, hats, etc.  This left me with only legs to cover (back to point 1).  This is where I get lazy and reach for the easy to apply, tried and trusted Coppertone Babies and my new favorite Banana Boat Kids 50.  They get the job done and are easy to wipe onto a moving target.

  • Why Banana Boat Kids 50? – the price is right, it is widely available without having to order online, you get a bottle larger than 3-6 ounces so you aren’t constantly restocking and MOST IMPORTANTLY, it has two main active ingredients: Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide.  It’s inactive ingredients are rather harmless with the worst chemical being PHENOXYETHANOL which is also the last item on the ingredients list and thus a small part of the overall recipe.

Read the label on your sunscreen just like you would with a food purchase.

3.  Always look for the Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide as the two main active ingredients.  These are physical blockers and thus bounce the UVA and UVB off your skin.  They tend to wear better and last longer through sweating and swimming.  There is some mounting pressure on the “nano particles” which allow us to wear Zinc without the white effect, but for now I still feel the trade off is worth it.  The alternative is chemical sunscreens (the more common) which contain avobenzone as a UV filtering agent, but this compound requires the addition of other stabilizing chemicals, some of which are toxic to the immune and reproductive systems. 

4.  Worried about chemicals and not clear on what is good and bad?  Use the website (Environmental Working Group). They have a wonderful database that covers the chemical dangers of almost any cosmetic or product you use on your skin.  Make sure you are very specific on what product you are using because sometimes one brand can have products that range from a 3 to a 10 in chemical hazards.  Use this link to see the 172 sunscreens which meet the EWG’s standards for your safest choices.

5. Steer clear of products that contain Vitamin A as well as sunscreen.  There is some evidence linking these products to an increase in cancer. It is suggested that when retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, mingles with the sun it may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions by forming free radicals which damage your skin’s DNA.  Reserve the Vitamin A for evening creams only.

My Everyday Sunscreen

So proud of my 100+ SPF!

6. What is in a number?  SPF is a very unreliable number.  Many say there isn’t much difference between an SPF 15 or 30 and that an SPF 100 is just a marketing ploy to get people to pay more for less.  When I brought this question up to my dermatologist she responded by saying it isn’t very clear the difference between 15 and 100, but for someone like me, is it really worth thinking about?  I need to get as much sun protection at all times as possible.  Of course not everyone is in my shoes, so I always say don’t go below SPF 30 and shoot for an SPF 50, but you probably don’t need SPF 100 if you don’t have previous cases of skin cancer.  In fact, I get the giggles now when I see SPF 4 Dark Tanning Oil on the shelves.

7. Re-apply at least every two hours, no matter what number is on the bottle.  Just because you put on a higher SPF doesn’t mean it will work longer.  It just works harder for the hours it stays on.

8. Skip the spray!  Always buy the rub on creams.  There are so many extra chemicals in the sprays, it really isn’t worth it.  Additionally, you never know that you are getting a full coverage and you typically don’t end up applying as much product as you would if it were in a cream.  It is also easier to miss spots with the spray.

See.  No stress.

See. No stress.

In summary, you are looking for a sunscreen in cream form with a SPF of 30 or higher which is made of the active ingredients Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide.  Then you are going to supplement the use of said sunscreen with hats, sunglasses, protective clothing, umbrellas and the ever lovely shade tree.  Accessorize with a cocktail and great book and you are set for a fabulous summer of pale skin and a healthy outlook.


Author: sunality

I am a mother of two and survivor of a very scary malignant melanoma diagnosis. I was diagnosed in my early thirties. Since that day, I have been working to change my lifestyle and incorporate sun blocking effective products into my daily life to create a new reality of living in the sun... my "sunality." I want to pass along this information to others who are facing the same lifestyle changes and challenges. You can still live a normal life and protect yourself from the deadly effects of the sun.

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