The Worst Sunscreens You Can Buy

When shopping for sunscreen, there are two chemicals you should avoid: retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and oxybenzone. Both have potential health risks, especially for young children. Problem is, the majority of sunscreens on the market today contain one or both of them.

Photo: Dennis Collette;  Flickr Commons
Enter the sixth annual sunscreen guide from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which (according to their infographic) reviewed 262 scientific studies on sunscreens, their ingredients, and their potential health benefits and risks; examined 1,800 sunscreens, moisturizers, makeup, and lip products with SPF ratings; and identified more than 1,300 sunscreen products that did not meet their recommended standards.

In particular, EWG recommends avoiding sunscreens with oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, which were found in 58 percent and 31 percent, respectively, of sunscreens in EWG's 2012 database. Oxybenzone is able to penetrate the skin in relatively large amounts and is associated with allergic reactions and potential hormone disruptions. (Read all about it.) Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may increase the rate of development of skin tumors and lesions.

Instead, EWG recommends using sunscreens with mineral blockers—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—which offers long-lasting protection against UVA (the variety that causes premature aging). And stick with lotions or creams instead of sprays or powders to ensure full coverage and avoid inhaling the stuff as you apply it.

Learn more about the best sunscreen products with EWG's complete round-up—and  definitely spend some time reading up on the complexities of evaluating (and regulating) sunscreen products. It's pretty interesting (and disturbing), as EWG's Suncreens Exposed section illustrates.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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