Let me tell you about one of the biggest pain points within my family… it’s the thing that causes the most screaming (by my kids), the most avoiding (by my husband) and the most nagging (by me). It also happens to be an extremely expensive habit (file it under preventative health care, I guess) and is just, well, a general necessary nuisance of my existence. It’s the daily application of sunscreen — and that’s what I’m diving into in this episode.

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Your Guide to Sunscreen by the Environmental Working Group 

SkinDeep (EWG)




Babo Botanicals



Let me tell you about one of the biggest pain points within my family… it’s the thing that causes the most screaming (by my kids), the most avoiding (by my husband) and the most nagging (by me). It also happens to be an extremely expensive habit (file it under preventative health care, I guess) and is just, well, a general necessary nuisance of my existence. It’s the daily application of sunscreen — and that’s what I’m diving into in this episode.

Living under the Southern California sun, applying sunscreen is just a part of daily life, which was a hard adjustment for both my husband and I, who both grew up in the Northeast when it seemed like, as kids, we only saw a bottle of sunscreen for 2-3 months out of the year when we went to the beach. 

Nowadays, doctors and dermatologists recommend the daily application of sunscreen no matter where you live in the world at any time of the year, but it’s still something that many of us avoid or quite simply forget to do. For example, this literally happened in our house yesterday: I put sunscreen on my son in the morning right before he left to go to the pool with my husband. They get back to the house five hours later, and my son’s face is red.

Me to my husband: “Did you reapply sunscreen on his face?”

My husband to me: “I thought you put it on him before we left?”

Me to my husband: “You have to reapply every 90 minutes and more than that if he’s in the water.” And just because, ya know, I can’t help myself – I add: “It says it right on the bottle.”

As if the instructions of using mineral sunscreen have changed over the five years our son has been born, right?

And while it’s easy to place the blame on my dear husband, I do it too. I tell myself that it’s good to get 30 minutes of vitamin D per day when I don’t want to feel greasy for an entire day just from going on a walk. 

To complicate matters, there is the expense of using mineral sunscreen – those bottles barely last us a month as a family of four. And then there’s the hesitancy of using chemical sunscreen (that’s cheaper) because of what the research is now telling us. 

According to the Environmental Working Group, of more than 1,700 sunscreen products on the market, it found that just one in four met their strict standards for sun protection and didn’t contain harmful ingredients. 

“While chemicals can protect us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, research strongly suggests that at certain exposure levels, some of the chemicals in some sunscreen products may cause cancer in people,” says

Their statement goes on to say: “Many of these chemicals are considered hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body’s hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen.”

And that’s where we get into the difference between mineral sunscreens and chemical sunscreens, knowing that not all are created equal but generally, mineral sunscreens are the safer choice.

The Environmental Working Group released a robust and very comprehensive guide to sunscreen this year, which I’ll link to in the show notes, if you want to read the full report. But I’m going to give you the cliff notes version based on that report, as well as some of their sunscreen recommendations.

By now we all know how I feel about the FDA’s ability to regulate consumer products (go back to the SKINCARE episode if you missed that one – or really, any episode). Despite sunscreens being more heavily regulated by the FDA than other cosmetic products, the safety standards have not been updated since 2011 when the FDA gave all ingredients a passing grade.

The EWG report reveals that no new sunscreen ingredients have been approved for use since the 1990s, and there’s been little change to sunscreen regulation, despite the continued rise of skin cancer rates and the growing importance of strong UVA protection. Just a quick note here: The FDA proposed rule changes in 2019 and 2021 that seem somewhat promising, but they’re still not finalized. 

That’s all to say, if you see a sunscreen brand on the shelf at Target or CVS, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe to use. But again, if you’ve been listening to this podcast you know that already.

Here is some good news though: oxybenzone is on the way out. It’s one of the most troublesome sunscreen ingredients and according to the EWG, is now being used much less due to concerns about skin absorption and its potential harm to human health. In 2020, four studies found that oxybenzone can act as a hormone disruptor and increase the risk of breast cancer and endometriosis, and yet it’s still permitted for use in U.S. sunscreens. It’s said to be found in about 13 percent of non-mineral sunscreens.

After pressure from the EWG and other human advocacy groups, in 2019 and again in 2021, the FDA proposed classifying oxybenzone as not generally recognized as safe and effective because of a lack of long-term safety tests. However, again, the FDA has not yet finalized this action.

Chemicals aside, one of the most surprising things (at least for me) from the EWG’s report is that most sunscreens failed to show reliable UVB protection and inadequate UVA protection. The research found that most sunscreens provided just 42 to 59 percent of the UVB protection that was declared on the SPF label, leaving the potential for long-term and unknown UV exposure.

In fact, many of the products that they tested would not meet the UVA standards required in Europe. According to the report, “only about a third of the products tested passed the EU standard, whereas more than nine out of 10 – 94 percent – would get the green light from the Food and Drug Administration.”

And the last thing I’ll say before we talk about how to pick a good sunscreen is that high SPF labels do not necessarily mean they’re better – Banana Boat SPF 100? Don’t do it. In fact, high SPF products may pose greater health risks because they require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals. And as we already know, some of these ingredients may pose health risks when they penetrate the skin.

So, how do you pick a good sunscreen? Well, that’s the first thing: don’t fall for high SPF labels. The EWG recommends picking a sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 50. 

The second thing is to avoid sunscreen with vitamin A. Government data shows that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams containing vitamin A, also called retinyl palmitate or retinol. Avoid any sunscreen whose label includes retinyl palmitate, retinol or vitamin A. This also links back to the SKINCARE episode, when I mentioned my hesitancy about purchasing retinol as an anti-aging serum. If you’re putting retinol on your face, make sure you do it at night before bed, wash your face in the morning, apply sunscreen on your face and wear a hat when you’re outside.

The third thing, as we already know, is to avoid oxybenzone. Instead look for sunscreen lotions with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the only two sunscreen ingredients categorized as safe and effective, by the EWG.

The fourth recommendation and this is a huge one for me, from an environmental perspective, can we all please agree to stop using spray sunscreen? No matter what kind of sunscreen it is. Yes, I am the woman at the beach giving the side eye to people spraying that shit everywhere. I get it, I know it’s easier – I don’t like lubing up my sandy, squirming, complaining children with lotion either, but aerosol sunscreens cloud the air with tiny particles that aren’t safe to breathe and most often contain the cancer-causing chemical benzene that is not safe at any level of use. Even some of the chemicals in spray sunscreen that are safe and considered “clean ingredients” when applied to the skin, like titanium dioxide, are toxic when inhaled into the lungs, causing (and I’m not exaggerating here) irreversible damage.

Also – I know, I’m laying this on heavy, now you know what it’s like to be married to me – when the chemicals in spray sunscreen make their way into the environment via airborne aerosol sprays or by washing off our skin and into the water, they’ve been shown to kill coral reefs and disturb ecosystems so dramatically that Hawaii has even passed legislation banning these ingredients.

I know, you’re all mad at me now for calling out the spray sunscreens – but seriously, we can’t justify using them anymore. We can’t even say that they work better than lotion because most of the time it blows away before reaching the skin and is much more likely than lotion to be applied unevenly.

Okay, so what sunscreen should you buy?

As I’ve mentioned, you want to look for products made with mineral-active ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They generally score well in EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens because they provide strong sun protection with few health concerns and don’t break down readily in the sun. In fact, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the only two sunscreen ingredients categorized as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration in their newly proposed sunscreen regulations.

As a reminder, you can go to the SKINDEEP website or app to browse their list of EWG-verified safe sunscreen recommendations, but I’ll also link our family favorites in the show notes at

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. Before you go, have you gotten a chance to leave a review yet? A five-star review is the very best way to show your support of the podcast and to help other people find out about it. Just tap leave review at the bottom of this episode, tap five stars, and write 1-2 sentences about what you like or what’s helped you. It would mean so much to me – thank you in advance.