Sunscreens to avoid

By Lori Bongiorno and Sarah B. Weir
(Photo: Jupiter Images)

(Photo: Jupiter Images)

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Shopping for sunscreen? The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) newly released 2011 sunscreen guide can help you make smart decisions.

This research and advocacy group recommends a mere 20 percent of the 600-plus beach and sport sunscreens it evaluated. To score high marks in the rankings, a product must be effective -- adequately protect skin from both UVA (which causes premature aging, skin cancer, and other skin damage) and UVB (which causes sunburn) rays. It must also be safe, meaning free of potentially harmful chemicals.

The 2011 products to avoid list contains some popular brands.

EWG's Sunscreens to Avoid:

How did EWG come up with this list? Each of the products to avoid meets all of these criteria:

  • SPF values above 50-plus. Higher SPF products are not necessarily best. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration says these numbers can be misleading. There's a concern that high SPF products may give people a false sense of security and encourage people to stay out in the sun for too long without reapplying sunscreen. It's also important to note that the SPF is based solely on UVB protection.
  • Sunscreen sprays. They can fill the air with tiny particles that may not be safe to breathe in, according to EWG.
  • Contains oxybenzone and vitamin A. Oxybenzone is a concern because it penetrates the skin, is associated with allergic reactions, and is a potential hormone disruptor. Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A that may not be safe when exposed to sunlight. EWG recommends choosing products with one of these ingredients instead: zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, or Mexoryl SX.

Which products does EWG recommend? Here's a list of its best beach and sport sunscreens.

Unfortunately, some of the safest and most effective sunscreens on store shelves can be expensive so it's worthwhile to shop around for deals. Here are the most affordable products that performed well in EWG's ratings (calculated by Yahoo! based on price per ounce).

Safer, Affordable Sunscreens: 

EWG also includes ratings for best moisturizers, lip balms, and makeup with SPF.

It's worth noting that using sunscreen is only one part of smart sun protection. Limit your time outside in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are most intense. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing (dark and tightly-woven). Get more sun safety tips from EWG.