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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual Guide to Sunscreens to aid consumers in selecting safe and effective products. The guide is a helpful tool if you know what to look for, but it can also be extremely confusing, with its multi-level rating system scaring the bejesus out of paraben-fearing Moms.
It’s intense. There are so many brands, so many claims, and so many unknown ingredients.

To make sense out of the Guide, I’m offering up my sisterly advice on sunscreen selection, with a little dose of chemical engineer and a pinch of environmentalist, but mostly sisterly. First, I am not a doctor. Second, I am not a doctor.

  1. The sun is both good and bad for you. Good – we need a healthy dose of vitamin D each day. The best and most effective way to obtain that dose is with several minutes of direct sunlight on unprotected skin. Bad – venturing out into the sun during peak times for extended periods will increase the amount of UVA and UVB rays your skin is exposed to, increasing your chances for sunburns (best case) and skin cancers (worst case).
  2. The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends that children younger than 6 months old not be exposed to direct sunlight, and are to remain covered when they are exposed to the sun. However, if you must venture out, the AAP agrees that sunscreen on a baby is better than sunburn on a baby.
  3. Most commercial sunscreens are terrifyingly composed of toxic chemicals, most of which we don’t know a whole lot about or what the long-term effects of applying them directly to the skin – your body’s largest and most porous organ. If it’s enough to freak ME out – you know it’s too much.
  4. Most organic and natural sunscreens are really expensive (dollar per ounce) and you really have to use a lot of it all summer long.
So here’s what I do:
  • First, I go to the EWG’s study and use the searchable database. I stalk all of the brands that are readily available to me in my local drugstore and grocery store. I learn that I’ve been applying toxic and ineffective sunscreen to my body for decades and freak the heck out. I read all the ingredients and google what I don’t know. I know that glycols and parabens are “iffy”. I know that things that end in -ol and -one are not-so-great. I freak out some more.
  • Next, I search the top-rated baby sunscreens. Products are rated on a scale of 0-10, where 0 means no data, 1 is highly rated, and 10 is the worst. I make a list of what makes sense to me based on effectiveness rating and low level of toxic ingredients. I consider products rated lower than a 3. I prefer products that contain natural earth minerals that actually block the sun’s rays from entering the skin (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide), but then you have to research nano-particles and consider that the natural earth mineral is probably combined with something horrible that you can’t pronounce. I also consider the spray vs. lotion issue – sprays are a serious no-go with the EWG, but for a mom at the beach with two wiggly kids, sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.
  • Then, I find my listed possibilities on Amazon one-by-one and find out 1) how much they cost, 2) how easy they are to find, and 3) how much trouble I’m going to be in when I tell my husband I charged $100 worth of skin cream (again.). OOPS.
  • Finally, my personal-best-for-my-family bottom line: I buy the highest rated and most relatively affordable sunscreen sticks and keep them everywhere. I coat the girls’ faces, shoulders, parts of their hair, tops of ears, etc. with a really good stick. I buy a pretty decent rated sunscreen cream, 30+SPF, and use it on their bodies. I send the best rated most affordable sunscreen to daycare because I know it’s going to get lost and I’m not spending $20 on protecting someone else’s kid. (sorry, not sorry.)

My personal final selections:

>> California Baby 
Badger

>> Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple

>> CVS Baby SPF30+ Broad Spectrum (for daycare)

 

Hope this helps!

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, and a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, photographing mushrooms, and misguided adventures in random hobbies. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), serves on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, and holds the elected position as the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Municipal Chairwoman.

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