As the weather gets warmer, I thought I would pass along some information about what ingredients to look for in sunscreen.
My husband, Matt, was diagnosed with melanoma almost 17 years ago. He had a mole on the back of his calf that I thought looked super cute. He had already had a suspicious mole removed from his back that was nothing but thankfully, his father convinced him to get this one checked. That’s where this story begins.
Matt went to a doctor to have this cute mole removed. I went and waited in the waiting room for him to be done. We were dating about six months at the time. I remember his father being surprised that I wanted to be there but I think he was grateful for the company.
Weeks later when he returned to have the stitches removed, they let him know he had melanoma. Anything that ends with an -oma is scary, but melanoma scared us a little more. He was recommended to an oncologist. Matt’s oncologist is amazing. Every time we go to see him there are people flying in from all over the WORLD for an appointment with him. Matt originally saw him every 6 months until he was cancer free for 5 years. Then he switched to yearly appointments.
In the very beginning Matt’s oncologist told us what we should look for in sunscreen. We had no idea what to look for and honestly, we were quite proud we were wearing sunscreen at all. It was a few months later that I realized that most people didn’t know what ingredients to look for either.
Matt’s oncologist told us that you need to have sunscreen who’s ACTIVE ingredient is Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. Any other active ingredients will protect you from sunburn but not necessarily protect you from the harmful rays that cause cancer.
He begged us to not use any sunscreen that contains any ingredients with “oxy-” or “benzo-“. He’s seen studies that show that those ingredients can be more dangerous to your skin than the sun itself.
Once we started looking for the “right” kind of sunscreen we realized it’s harder to find. Those two ingredients are more common as the inactive ingredients. Also if one bottle has the active ingredients, it does not mean that brand has it in every type. Ingredients vary between different SPFs, also.
When it comes to SPF, the oncologist also told us that you do not need to use a high SPF. He said that there are so many damaging chemicals in the higher SPFs that they can do more damage to your skin than the sun does. Isn’t that so ironic? Something that is made and marketed as a product to protect your skin can do more harm than what it’s supposed to be protecting you from?
By the way, most sunscreens marketed as “baby sunscreen” do not contain Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. Avoid those. You don’t need a baby sunscreen for your child.
To be completely honest, Matt’s melanoma scares me. Really scares me. He’s okay now but he’s consistently getting suspicious moles removed and checked. What scares me most is our girls. We’ve been told that statistically, there is a really high chance that at least 1 of our girls will have melanoma. Even more scary.
Here’s some new info that I have found and learned in the last 16 years:
- Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in the US*
- Cases rose 45% between 1992 – 2004*
- No sunscreen is waterproof or sweat proof – they can be water resistant but not for any longer than 30-40 minutes
- Reapply sunscreen at least every 1-1.5 hours and definitely when you get out of the water
- The reason that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the most important ingredients is because they sit on top of your skin and don’t get absorbed the way other ingredients do.
- Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are minerals/ metals so they come out of the bottle white in color, similar to what lifeguards typically wear on their noses. When you see a label that says it has micronized zinc oxide, that means the zinc oxide has been broken down so that your skin won’t look so white when it’s applied.
So if you are like we were, you are now saying, “Well, what kind of sunscreen is good?”
You need to spend some time in the sunscreen aisle reading the labels. This is time consuming but once you start looking through the labels, you’ll realize how many terrible sunscreens there are on the market.
Here are a few reminders:
- Buy new sunscreen every year.
- Check the labels every year because some brands change their ingredients from year to year.
- Reapply sunscreen often.
You can click on the Environmental Working Group’s website to find their ratings of sunscreens and to check the brand you are currently using.
Here’s what WE use:
- Our favorite sunscreen right now is Beautycounter’s Protect. Not only does it have the highest amounts of zinc oxide and titanium oxide that I can find, it also has a great rating on EWG. But the most important thing, it applies easily and quickly. I can sunscreen all 3 girls by myself in less than 5 minutes. It’s amazing! You can order it HERE. (The Beautycounter Stick Sunscreen is also a great one.)
Here are some others we have liked and some others we want to try:
- I’ve heard a lot about Yes to Cucumbers Natural Sunscreen. It’s available at Target, Walmart, and of course, Amazon.
- For a spray sunscreen that has the active ingredients, we use All-Terrain Kid Sport.
- In the past we’ve used Earth’s Best sunscreen and Blue Lizard Sensitive sunscreen. Just beware that not every Blue Lizard sunscreen has good ingredients. Some of them are terrible.
- The easiest sunscreen for us to find is Neutrogena’s Sensitive Skin. It’s the only Neutrogena brand that has the active ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and Target and most pharmacies carry it. It doesn’t have great ratings because the SPF is too high and it still has some harmful chemicals. However, when we’re in a bind, I’d rather use this than another kind that is full of more harmful chemicals. This is our last resort, though.
In the spring of 2015 I made a trip to Wegmans grocery store. They had a few good sunscreens in their organic/ natural section. However, their pharmacy section is the perfect example of what most box stores’ sunscreen selection looks like. In the display in the photo below, the only sunscreens that contained zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the ones that I circled. Wegmans has their own brand of mineral sunscreen on the top shelf. I’ve tried the spray and didn’t like it but still haven’t tried their lotion sunscreen. They also carry the Neutrogena one I mentioned above that we buy if I’m out of our regulars. All the others on that display are what Matt’s oncologist would consider terrible sunscreens.
Please make sure to read the labels so you can best protect yourself and your family.
Disclaimer: I am in no way a medical professional. This is all information that has been gathered over the last 16 years of Matt’s melanoma history. I share this information because it is all things that Matt & I didn’t know. Please consult a doctor if you have questions. (You could ask me, but know that I am not a doctor – I just try to inform myself).
*information gathered from abcnews
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