Top 5 tips for choosing sunscreen – without controversial ingredients

When choosing your sunscreen, it’s important to consider the ingredients it contains. Many sunscreen products contain controversial substances, such as suspected endocrine disruptors or a whole range of other potentially toxic, polluting or highly controversial substances.

 

Choosing sunscreen : how to choose the right product ?

First of all, it’s important to remember that sunscreen products… are just one “tool” among many. And that’s why it’s so important to remember that sun protection is a global approach. Far too often, we focus solely on the protection provided by sunscreens (which only represent partial protection anyway), without taking into account the context (phototype/place of exposure/time of day/history, etc.). This is an essential aspect that deserves real consideration, and one that has already been addressed in various articles.

To sum up: putting on sunscreen doesn’t exempt you from common sense.

To help you make the right choice, here are our top 5 tips for choosing sunscreens free from controversial ingredients.

 

1) Choose sunscreen adapted to your skin type (phototype) & activities

This concerns a whole variety of different parameters :  context of exposure and your specific needs (hypoallergenic, sporting activities, exposure levels, etc.). However, there’s usually no need to buy 5 different sun creams: there are suitable products for the whole family, most of the time. Another very important aspect is that we generally don’t apply enough sunscreen for optimum protection.  Official recommendations are as follows:

Recommended amount of sunscreen :

  • Use enough to cover your entire face and body (avoiding the eyes and mouth).
  • An average-sized adult or child needs at least one ounce of sunscreen (about the amount it takes to fill a shot glass) to evenly cover the body from head to toe.

sunscreen : how much should you apply ?

2 ) Respect expiration dates and storage times for suncare products

We often still have one or two opened products at the bottom of a drawer, dating back to last year. Once opened, the synthetic UV filters in conventional sunscreens generally lose their effectiveness after a few months. And with organic suncare products, even if the mineral filters seem to be more stable over time, the rest of the formulation doesn’t necessarily last beyond the product’s recommendations, especially if the product has already been opened.

It is therefore important to follow the logo and the “after opening” indication, which indicates the number of months you can keep your suncream once it has been opened. This is shown by a small pictogram in the shape of a jar, on which is written a number indicating the number of months during which you can safely use your product after opening.

Does sunscreen expire ?

3) Choose a sunscreen with the right sun protection factor… for you.

SCOOP: In the end, you don’t always have to choose the highest SPF.  Firstly, because the difference between a SPF 30 and SPF 50 is quite small. It’s called the « inverted protection curve», implying that the difference between the lower SPFs factors are higher compared to the higher SPF factors, there is only a difference of 1% between an SPF 30 and SPF 50, for instance. And secondly, because no sunscreen can guarantee 100% UV protection – the term “sunblock” can officially no longer be used to market suncreams, at least in Europe.

The most important thing is to use sunscreen as a complementary protection tool (see below), not as a kind of “guaranteed exposure time” or “permit” that would allow you to lie on the beach all day long with SPF 50 – even if you apply it repeatedly.

What’s an SPF again?  What’s the difference between SPF 30 and 50?  See explanations here (article still in french for the moment.)

 

4) Choosing organic or « conventional » sunscreen ?

In general, suncare products must comply with current legislation and basic requirements regarding UV-or UVA-protection, whether they are « conventional » or certified organic. So the difference is not in the sun protection, but in the basic formulation of the products.

  • On one side, conventional manufacturers use a wide range of ingredients, which are of course authorized by the European Cosmetics Regulation. But among these authorized ingredients, there are also many that are the subject of controversy.
  • On the other side, the natural and organic cosmetics sector (certified by various labels in Europe and abroad) works with a much more restricted number of ingredients, excluding a large number of components considered problematic, potentially toxic or polluting, for example – in any case, controversial at various levels.

As far as sunscreens are concerned, there’s also a clear difference in sun protection filters applied: conventional products use either synthetic/chemical filters, or a mixture of different filters (synthetic and mineral filters), and organic cosmetics can only use two mineral filters (titanium dioxide* and zinc oxide). But you also have to keep in mind that conventional products generally use a panoply of different UV filters, including many suspected endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemical substances that can interfere with the functioning of our hormonal system.

And apart from this basic difference, conventional products can also contain a whole range of potentially toxic, controversial and polluting substances. Tests carried out over the years attest to this. Whether for everyday face creams, organic sunscreens or children sun protection.

If you opt for conventional products, read the labels : before buying your sunscreen, take the time to read the labels to make sure the product doesn’t contain any controversial ingredients.

sunscreen ; mineral vs chemical

Certified organic or « conventional » sunscreen?

The choice is yours, but organic sunscreens offer the same level of protection – without the slew of controversial ingredients.

Have you heard that organic sunscreens offer less UV_A protection? We’ve been reviewing the situation for years here and here (in french).

 

5) Choosing the right product is the first step, but don’t rely on sunscreen….exclusively

 

When discussing sunscreen products, it’s important to remember that it’s just one “tool” among many. These are “common sense” recommendations that have been repeated over and over for years. Enjoying the sun is all very well, but… preferably in moderation.

  • It’s best to avoid exposure to the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., and move into the shade or create shaded areas during the most critical hours.
  • Use the full range of sun protection equipment: wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, parasol, anti-UV clothing, etc.
  • When the sun’s rays are at their most intense, it’s a good idea to wear covering clothing, which is already a means of photo-protection, whether in everyday life or at the beach. Other cultures set a good example.
  • For babies and toddlers: never expose them directly to the sun, as their skin is particularly sensitive and vulnerable. Protect their skin, even in the shade, and play it safe with anti-UV clothing or tents.
  • Eat a diet rich in antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C) and carotenoids (found in reddish-orange fruits and vegetables, for example), which also help protect against UV-A damage.
  • To enable your skin’s melanocytes to develop their natural protection (photoprotection/tanning), start gradually and accustom your skin to the sun from spring onwards, in small steps.

Sun Safety Tips