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Although doctors advise parents to use physical barriers — SPF clothing, umbrellas, and shades — rather than lotions to protect babies younger than 6 months old from dangerous, cancer-causing UVA and UVB rays, babies and kids older than that should get protection from SPF creams as well. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)'s recommendations for the best sunscreens for kids is considered somewhat of a definitive list of safe options, but how does it makes its decisions when it comes to health and safety?
According to EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews, inactive ingredients like retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and oxybenzone are the ones that parents need to steer clear of. "By and large, the [sunscreens] that do well in our database are the ones that are mineral-based products with a higher percent of zinc oxide, as well as some of the products with titanium dioxide," he said.
"When people use higher SPF values, we're concerned that it leads to a change in behavior and an increased time in the sun and that you apply less of it."
While parents have been getting the message about switching from chemical sunscreens to mineral versions, one of the group's biggest concerns is how parents are using them. "[Consumers] are looking to buy higher and higher SPF values," Andrews said. "When people use higher SPF values, we're concerned that it leads to a change in behavior and an increased time in the sun and that you apply less of it. Those products may not be as effective in blocking both UVA and UVB radiation. So we steer consumers toward SPF 30 to SPF 50 products and lower, and we really think that is the sweet spot of the products that are available in the marketplace."
So what's a parent to do when trying to choose a safe sunscreen? First, check the EWG's site and app for a list of the safest (and most harmful) options for your family. If you have been using a sunscreen featured on past years' lists, know that the EWG strategically changes things up every year, so what may have been featured as one of the best sunscreens of 2019 may no longer be considered so in the eyes of the EWG.
"The products found in our Guide to Sunscreens may vary from year to year since we rebuild each year's guide from scratch," Carla Burns, a research and database analyst who manages the updates to the EWG Guide to Sunscreen, told POPSUGAR. "We try to capture as many products as we can find currently available on the market, but the products don't overlap 100 percent from year to year. Also, products are often reformulated, which could also change the score and/or disqualify a product from being on our Best-Rated Products list. This year, we strengthened our criteria for UVA protection, and some SPF products did not meet our updated criteria. For products to be included on our Best Scoring Sunscreens for Kids list, there are criteria that the products need to meet, and since formulations may change and product availability differs each year, there may be some variability from our 2019 list."
There are plenty sunscreens with a green rating in EWG's Guide to Sunscreens — despite only a handful of sunscreen being featured as the year's highest rated — so be sure to check the guide to see if your favorite brand is a "green" EWG brand. And keep reading to see and shop some of the EWG's top picks!