Earth Friendly: Report compares best, worst sunscreens

June 9, 2011 at 1:09 a.m.

Meridith Byrd

Meridith Byrd

By Meridyth Byrd

Summer is officially less than two weeks away, and that has me thinking about pool parties, hitting the beach and trying to avoid burning to a crisp.

The Environmental Working Group recently released their 2011 Sunscreen Guide (found at, a helpful and easy-to-digest website designed to help you choose the right sunscreen.

What's there to decide? Just pick the least expensive brand with the highest SPF, right? Wrong. In the past, I chose a sunscreen by the SPF and the all-important coconut scent, but I have realized the error in my ways. There is more to buying sunscreen than just choosing a coconut-scented bottle off the shelf.


Some of the ingredients in many commercial sunscreens have been identified as potentially cancer-causing or endocrine disrupting, and the tiny particles in sprays or powders can be harmful when inhaled.

Oxybenzone is one of these chemicals to watch out for; it is widely found in sunscreens, despite being a possible endocrine disrupter and a known allergen. Furthermore, oxybenzone has been proven to penetrate the skin in fairly large amounts, causing some experts to recommend that it not be used on children.

Vitamin A, or retinyl palmitate, is another ingredient to avoid when choosing a sunscreen. The Food and Drug Administration recently found that retinyl palmitate might be a photocarcinogen, or potentially cancer-causing when used on sun-exposed skin. More research is ongoing although in the meantime the Environmental Working Group recommends avoiding sunscreens containing the ingredient.


Commercial sunscreen manufacturers, including CVS, Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Walgreens, Alba and Aveeno, are offering more choices for people with sensitive skin or who want to stay away from oxybenzone and vitamin A. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two ingredients to look for when choosing a sunscreen; both block UV radiation without penetrating the skin. In addition, zinc and titanium do not cause allergic reactions, break down to harmful free-radicals in sunlight or disturb endocrine functions. Look for these ingredients when choosing a children's sunscreen, as well; California Baby makes a high-rated children's sunscreen that is available locally.


Research has shown that people who use high-SPF sunscreens are exposed to at least as many UV rays, and sometimes more, than those who use products with a lower SPF. The reason is that high SPFs give people a false confidence, causing them to not reapply often enough and stay out in the sun for too long.


The sun is here, and it's not going away anytime soon. We are lucky to live in South Texas, where there are an abundance of fun outdoor activities to enjoy: swimming, fishing, boating, golfing, beachcombing, outdoor concerts, etc. Have fun when you are in the sun, but limit your exposure and reapply your sunscreen often. Before you choose a sunscreen, read the bottle carefully to avoid some potentially harmful ingredients, and look for those containing zinc or titanium.

Curious as to how your favorite sunscreen is rated for safety? Visit to find the best choices.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites readers to contact her at



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