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Which sunscreen should you buy to protect yourself from summer sun?

Skin-care-1491366_640It’s important to protect your skin from the sun by using sunscreen and by taking other protections such as wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves.

Sunscreen protects your skin against radiation from sun rays called ultraviolet A and B. UVB rays are the ones that mostly cause sunburn, while UVA rays mainly cause aging skin. The SPF or sun protection factor rates the protection against UVB rays. Both UVA and UVB rays contribute to skin cancer risk.

Types of sunscreen

When shopping for sunscreens, you’ll find two kinds, mineral and chemical.

Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both are found in mineral sunscreens. Acting as a shield, mineral sunscreens physically deflect UV rays when they hit your skin.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved avobenzone, ecamsule, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, and oxybenzone as active ingredients to be used in chemical sunscreens.

UV light is absorbed by these chemicals sunscreen before it can penetrate the skin. Through a chemical reaction the rays are then released it as heat. Most chemical sunscreens contain more than one active ingredient. Some sunscreens made with both and mineral and chemical ingredients.

Different opinions from consumer groups

Two consumer groups offer different recommendations on sunscreens – the Environmental Working Group and Consumer Reports:

Environmental Working Group

To make recommendations, the EWG looks at the ingredients in sunscreens and asks manufacturers to send third-party evaluations.

It suggests avoiding aerosol and powder sunscreens due inhalation risks. In addition, the EWG recommends sunscreens have an SPF value between 15 and 50.

In its annual report, “2024 Guide to Sunscreens,” the EWG said that three-quarters of almost 1,700 SPF products it evaluated fall short of adequate sun protection, with many containing ingredients that could pose health risks. The report provides a database of products by brand and type, while also breaking them down into the top recreational sunscreens, the best daily SPF, and the safest sunscreens for babies and children.

Most top-rated sunscreens identified by EWG contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both – ingredients that offer excellent sun protection with fewer health concerns, the EWG said in a statement.

The EWG found 235 sunscreens that meet its standards.

Consumer Reports

For the 2024 summer season, Consumer Reports tested dozens of sprays, lotions, and sticks to determine how well they’ll protect skin from the sun’s rays. Some of its articles list the top sunscreens, with details being are available to members.

All the sunscreens at the top of Consumer Report’s ratings contain chemical active ingredients, such as avobenzone, the testing organization said in an article on its website.

But Consumer Reports has found in its tests over the years, mineral sunscreens haven’t performed as well, Consumer Reports said in the article. See “Best Mineral Sunscreens of 2024” and “Best Sunscreens of 2024” for Consumer Reports’ recommendations.

FDA lagging behind

Both Consumer Reports and the EWG, as well as others including Congress, are critical of the FDA’s regulation of sunscreen.

Some ingredients commonly found in sunscreens have been linked to both human and environmental concerns, Emily Spilman, program manager for Healthy Living Science at the EWG, said in a statement. They’re still widely used in hundreds of products, even though they haven’t been tested adequately for safety, Spilman said.

The Food and Drug Administration has asked sunscreen manufacturers for more safety data about the non-mineral filters in sunscreens. It’s been more than two decades since the FDA approved a new active ingredient for use in SPF products, which leaves U.S. consumers behind in the global sunscreen innovation race.

Currently, the FDA has proposed that just two substances are generally recognized as safe and effective for sunscreens, while the European Union has more than 30. Because of tighter regulations in this country, it’s challenging to get new ingredients approved, she said.

The 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, knows as the CARES Act, changed the approval process for over-the-counter drugs. In 2021, the FDA again proposed updates to sunscreen regulations, yet crucial safety measures haven’t been carried out, Spilman said. Other deadlines were set as recently as February 2024.  

The sunscreen industry has failed to provide the FDA with sufficient safety data about the other active ingredients to safely allow their use in SPF products, she said. 

Sun safety tips

  • Stay in the shade during peak sunlight hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wear broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
  • Use UV-blocking sun umbrellas and clothing.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours.

In the United States, more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. More than two people die of the disease every hour.

Getting informed about how to protect your skin from UV sun rays is important for your health.


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Bren Welch

As someone who has been cut in too many times for skin cancers, I appreciate your post and you bringing awareness. Thank you!


Thank you. It's a complicated topic that consumers need to know more about.

Beth Havey

Great post! I remember my mother warning me about sun. Did I listen? No. I do now, but in some
ways it is too late, especially for my legs. We learn as we go. Thanks for your post.


Good for your mom warning you about the sun. When I was growing up in Central Washington, not much was known about skin cancer. I grew up on apple ranches, so we were outside a lot.

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