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8 Safe Sunscreen Lotions Confirmed by EWG Research

Updated on July 2, 2010

The beauty-conscious have long sought the shade because of the harms often associated with sunlight. When this option wasn’t available, sunscreen was thought to create an effective shield, blocking harmful UV rays, as well as preventing sun-damage and skin cancer. However, new research is bringing to light the fact that the harmful effects of the sun might not be so easy to block.

Why UV Rays Are Tough to Block with Lotion

It’s quite a conundrum, on one hand most North Americans are vitamin D deficient, which is emitted in plentiful dosages by the sun’s rays. Yet, staying out in the sun isn’t a viable option because most sunscreens can’t block the majority of UV rays, no matter what is claimed on the back of the packaging or by the SPF rating.

Ultraviolet rays are broken down into two components, UVA and UVB. About 90% of ultraviolet rays are UVA rays, while the rest is made up of UVB rays. Both types are harmful, causing nasty red burns at the beach or backyard and increasing the risk of skin cancer. Our reason for looking at the distinction is because most sunscreens can only block Ultraviolet B rays which means at best, 10% of the UV rays are effectively blocked from penetrating the skin.

4 out of 5 Sunscreens Ineffective and Loaded with Chemicals

Scientific tests done by the Environmental Working Group have confirmed that sunscreens once thought of as safe by consumers may have the potential to do more harm than good. Not only do the products not effectively do the job, there is also a cocktail of harsh chemicals in the ingredients known to cause ill effects.

Out of the 831 sunscreens tested by the EWG, over 80 percent failed to pass health and environment standards. With such pitiful results the researchers have called upon the FDA to force manufacturers to disclose how effective their formula really is at blocking UV ray on the label.

So, is your current sunscreen safe? Between 1 and 10 percent of sunscreen ingredient penetrate the skin so this is about more than just the skin. The health of your entire body is at stake. Here is a list of common chemicals you may find in the ingredients list that are best avoided.

Chemicals to Avoid when you Shop for Sunscreen

Benzophenone-3, homosalate and octyl methoxycinnamate (aka octinoxate): These additives penetrate the skin and act similarly to hormones in the body. If used consistently they may throw a curve ball and alter otherwise normal processes in the body. Sunscreen users exposed to such UV filters tended to have higher amounts of free radicals in their body which is linked to accelerated aging.

Padimate-0 and parsol 1789 (aka avobenzone): Prime suspects for causing DNA damage when mixed with the sun. Ironically for the skin-obsessed, DNA damage creates tiny mutations which make the skin look older.

PABA (aka Para-aminobenzoic acid): Once so commonly used it was known as the ‘sunscreen vitamin’. PABA was a prime ingredient in the very first sunscreens on the market and continues to be used today by some manufacturers. It causes photo-allergic responses in some people which can lead to acne, red spots on the skin, burning, itching and blisters.

Since most makers of sunscreen have failed to live up to their claims concerning not only blocking UV rays, but also being waterproof, a chain of lawsuits began to crop up around five years ago.

Safe Sunscreen Choices Backed by Research from EWG

With all this bad news to take in, is it all doom and gloom surrounding suntan lotions? Since avoiding direct sunshine is not always possible or practical for the busy individual, EWG has published a list outlining the best sunscreens that passed their tests for safety with flying colors.

To save you the leg work, here are the top-rated sunscreens recommended by the EWG.

Badger Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 30 – Ranked right at the top is Badger’s simple, effective solution. It uses the active ingredient of high-grade zinc oxide to protect the skin. Its ability to block UVA rays is rated as excellent.

Loving Naturals Sunscreen, SPF30+ - This is a great choice for those that prefer natural solutions. It uses natural oils such as grape seed, organic sunflower and others to work synergistically with the active ingredient.

California Baby Sunblock Stick, SPF30+ - Although not quite as good as blocking UVA rays as Badger’s or Loving Natural’s offerings, this product is certainly no slouch, earning it a position among the top choices.

Badger Sunscreen Face Stick, SPF 30 – For those that prefer applying a stick to the face, this product has the same proven formula as the face and body lotion.

Soleo Organics, SPF30 - This organically produced skin care solution is a safe alternative to common synthetic based sunscreens. Soleo is driven by Naturopathic principles, so there are no chemical UV-absorbants, titanium dioxide, or synthetic preservatives added.

All-Terrain Aqua Sport Performance Sunscreen, SPF30 – Value conscious buyers looking to get wet in the pool or at the beach will like this one.

Beyond Coastal Lip and Face Screen, SPF 30 - Mineral-Based Lip & Face Screen, SPF 30 Beyond Coastal's mineral based lip and face protection is meant for the most demanding conditions. It comes in a cool tin, making application to the fact and lips easy.

UV Natural Baby Sunscreen, SPF 30+ - This lotion has been formulated just for babies and young children. The price tag seems excessive since low priced options work just as well.


Although many of EWG’s suggestions are tough to find in stores, they can easily be purchased from a wide variety of online retailers. Not surprisingly it has been the suntan lotion giants such as Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat that have been taking consumers for a ride and mortgaging their health. The small, boutique manufactures have consistently come up on top, proving once again it is the small operations that need to put out quality products on the marketplace to survive.


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    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks for this informative hub! I love EWG and have tried a bunch of the products. California Baby is our favorite, though pricey. I found Loving Naturals to be a strange consistency and hard to rub in, but still a great product. I'll probably try others as my kids get older.