Safe and Effective Sunscreens and Insect Repellents – Update 2017

Safe skin care can include educating yourself and being aware of changes in your skin. Your massage therapist may be the next best person after your dermatologist to alert you to anything that looks concerning. Your therapist can also use a massage lotion or cream that is safe and beneficial to your skin and avoid any allergies you may have.

Sun protection is a first line of prevention. The best way to protect yourself from too much sun exposure is to stay in the shade, wear a large brimmed hat and long sleeves. Many sunscreens on the market have problematic ingredients, and many do not perform according to the label claims.  I consulted the Consumer Reports testing results for effectiveness, and the Environmental Working Group database for ingredient safety.

The ingredients in question are octinoxate and oxybenzone, which have shown hormonal effects in animal studies, but not in short term human studies. Also retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A) has shown carcinogenic effects in animals but has not been studied in humans.  The FDA has also raised concerns about inhaling the mist from spray-on sunscreens, and recommended avoiding their use with children. Mineral sunscreens work by creating a physical barrier (think white noses of lifeguards).

When I cross reference these two sources for safety and effectiveness, the list is VERY short.

The best lotion is Coppertone Water Babies Lotion SPF 30, ranked at 95 and 3.  Other good choices:

Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish lotion SPF 30 – 87/4

Coppertone Clearly Sheer Lotion SPF 50  – 80/4.

If you love  spray-ons the news is not great. Consumer Reports cautions that it is hard to know if you have applied enough, and you need to be careful not to inhale the fumes. That said, the best of sprays is Australian Gold Continuous Clear Spray SPF 30, which ranks as 69 out of 100 in effectiveness and 4 on a scale of 1 (unquestionably safe) to 10 (definitely toxic).


Be very careful in choosing which formula.  Most Coppertone products are rated at 7, with 10 being most toxic. Consumer Reports also notes that most lip balms are not effective as rated. It is hard to keep up with all of this as there are dozens of brands; each brand has numerous formulas; and formulas come and go regularly.

EWG does not rate insect repellents, but there is a widely available and very effective natural insect repellent: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.

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