Gold Member Badge


  • You're all caught up!
<Back to Posts

7 Surprises About Sunscreens and Tanning


Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., and each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

When I heard that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lifetimes, I began looking around me. My friends and co-workers are athletes: runners, cyclists, swimmers, surfers, and they all spend a great deal of time outdoors.

Meg Watson, an epidemiologist in the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control and Dawn Holman, a behavioral scientist at the CDC told LIVESTRONG.COM that most skin cancer appears on the face or head. "People often think you can just get skin cancer cut off," said Watson, "But it can be quite disfiguring and leave scars." What's more, over 9,000 Americans die from melanoma every year.

While lighter-skinned people are at a higher risk for developing cancer, when darker-skinned people are diagnosed with skin cancer they are more likely to die from it. Watson and Holman told us that the increased deadliness in people with darker skin may be due to being diagnosed at later stages, possibly because of less awareness. Inspired by the CDC, our design team created an infographic that we hope will encourage people, young and old, to avoid the sun. Please check it out, and consider sharing this important info with your friends, family, and followers on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.

What should we be doing to protect ourselves?

In researching this question I discovered seven pieces of unexpected information about sunscreens and tanning:

1. Spray sunscreens should be avoided. While many people view spray sunscreen as convenient and less greasy (I must admit I have been guilty of using it for these reasons), it is seen to be one of the worst types of sunscreen for our health for two reasons. First, according to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), "There's growing concern that these sprays pose serious inhalation risks." Essentially, the sunscreen chemicals are not meant to be inhaled into the lungs, and it's almost impossible to avoid this when applying spray sunscreen. (Even when your someone nearby is applying a spray sunscreen, it's safest for you to turn away and/or cover your nose and mouth.) Secondly, EWG points out that spray sunscreens make it too easy to miss a spot on your body or to apply too little of the product to really be effective in blocking the sun's harmful rays.

2. Tanning addiction is a real issue! According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, "Frequent tanners exhibit signs of both physical and psychological dependence. When a substance causes physical dependency, repeated use of that substance causes symptoms of increased tolerance, craving, and withdrawal."

3. Use "broad spectrum" sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays. As The Skin Cancer Foundation writes, "UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other light-induced effects of aging." Enough said, right?

4. You don't want SPF higher than 50+. EWG points out that sunscreens with SPFs of 70 or 110 may protect you against sunburn but could leave your skin exposed to damaging UVA rays. Although SPF stands for "Sun Protection Factor," this number refers to only protection against UVB radiation which burns the skin, but it does not tell us the protection factor against UVA rays which accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer.

5. Avoid sunscreens containing Oxybenzone. Nearly half of all sunscreens (and many cosmetics) contain oxybenzone. EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database rates oxybenzone as an “8″ or “high hazard.” According to EWG, this chemical penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can trigger allergic reactions and health harms including endometriosis in women and low sperm counts in men.

6. Sunscreens expire. Check the expiration dates for any sunscreens laying around your house. According to Consumer Reports, sunscreens start losing their sun-protecting power when the ingredients start to separate, turn gritty or change in appearance.

7. European consumers have superior sunscreen options than are available to consumers in the U.S. According to EWG, Americans have fewer choices of quality sunscreen than Europeans. They report that, “More than half of the 750 [U.S. market] beach and sport sunscreens reviewed by EWG are too weak to be sold in the European market.” EWG points out that in Europe, all sunscreens must offer UVA protection that is at least one third as potent as the SPF (i.e. UVB protection).

Wondering which sunscreens you should buy or keep in your cabinet and which ones to toss out?

Gather together all of your sunscreen, check the ingredient lists, check the expiration dates, and then look them up in EWG's 2013 Guide to Sunscreens to see how they each rank. The rankings of 0-2 are best, and the rankings of 7-10 are worst. Toss all the sunscreens that are sprays, powders, those that are expired, and those with dangerous ingredients and high scores. Then, make sure you have some unexpired, broad-spectrum, SPF 30-50+, and be sure to apply it in an adequate amount, approximately 1 ounce to cover an entire adult’s body.

5 of EWG’s Top-Rated Sunscreens:
* Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 ($12)
THINKSPORT Sunscreen, SPF 50+ ($16)
* Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Lotion, SPF 50 ($10)
* Jason Pure Natural Sun Mineral Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30 ($12)
* Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Green Tea, SPF 30+ ($11)

5 of EWG’s Worst-Rated Sunscreens:
* Banana Boat Ultra Defense Max Skin Protect Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 110
* CVS Clear Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100
* Neutrogena Wet Skin Spray Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 85+
* Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 100+ Rite Aid
* Renewal Extreme Sport Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 70

I asked Kevin Brodwick, founder of THINKSPORT why he created the THINKSPORT brand. "A majority of the sunscreens on the market contain UV chemical absorbers, which are a high concern," Brodwick said. "Many of these chemicals have been linked to being carcinogenic. To us, it just didn't make sense that you would potentially apply something to your largest organ that had the potential to cause the exact thing you're trying to protect against."

THINKSPORT and THINKBABY sunscreens are physical block sunscreens using only one active ingredient — zinc oxide. Due to the amount of zinc oxide used, they provide a broad-spectrum coverage for both UVA and UVB.  Brodwick points out that THINKSPORT does not use “nano particles of zinc oxide.”

“Nano particles in sunscreen,” you’re probably thinking, “why on earth is this relevant?”

According to Brodwick, there is concern that ultra small particles might be able to pass through the skin layer.  THINKSPORT embraces the Precautionary Principle, and they won’t use a chemical or material in their products without it being well vetted. Their sunscreen line does not contain PABA, parabens, phthalates or 1,4 dioxane. Additionally, they don’t use petroleum for water resistance, and instead utilize a natural system based on tree sap resin.

What Should Athletes Consider When Looking for a Sunscreen?

“There are really four factors that folks should be looking for if you're spending time outdoors,” Brodwick says. First, you need to look for sunscreen with an SPF greater than 30, but no higher than SPF 50+.  Next, you need a sunscreen that is labeled broad-spectrum.  ”Athletes will want a sunscreen that is going to work well when they're sweating or in the water,” Brodwick points out.  ”Our THINKSPORT sunscreen falls into the highest category of water resistance allowed by the FDA. The new nomenclature is ‘Water Resistant - 80 Minutes.’ Terms like sweatproof and waterproof are no longer allowed.”  If you’re anything like me, you probably also want a sunscreen that doesn’t feel all oily and goopy.  ”You often hear athletes complaining of feeling claustrophobic or feeling like they can't sweat well after applying sunscreen,” says Brodwick. “This is actually one of the great things about our sunscreen. It applies extremely easily and doesn't make you feel oily or sticky.”

What's your favorite sunscreen?  Leave a comment below and let me know. (I’m going to need to stock up on some new options after I toss out all the expired bottles and spray versions in my house.)

-Jess Barron

Jess Barron is LIVESTRONG.COM’s Editor-in-Chief. A longtime foodie and fan of Farmer’s Market food, Jess particularly loves heirloom tomatoes, fresh figs with burrata cheese, and anything with pumpkin or peanut butter in it! Her love for food fuels her desire to exercise daily. Some of her favorite workout routines include running, yoga, P90X, INSANITY, and mixed martial arts. Jess’s writing can also be found at She has appeared on MSNBC’s “The Most,” ABC News Now, and XM satellite radio and her writing has appeared on and Yahoo!

Follow Jess on Twitter @jessdandy. Also, you can add her on Google+, and follow her on Pinterest.

Must see: Slideshow & Video

Member Comments