You should wear some form of sunscreen all year round in Arizona, if you’re going to be outdoors for any length of time. But it’s especially important during the summertime, when you can cook an egg on the sidewalk!

But how do you know which sunscreens are worth the money, which are a waste… or worse, which are actually harmful?

Avoid the Toxins

You might think what you put on your skin isn’t as big a deal as what you put on your mouth, but you still need to be careful. Chemicals applied to your skin get absorbed into your bloodstream quickly. For all personal care products, avoid this list of contaminants. However, one more big offender that seems to find its way into sunscreens is oxybenzone, yet another common endocrine disruptor that acts like estrogen in the body. This causes problems in both women and men.

In general, as with other personal care products, choose sunscreens with the shortest list of ingredients, none of which should be oxybenzone or any of the other common contaminants in skin care products. If your sunscreen’s active ingredient is zinc oxide rather than chemically based, that’s even better (although it does tend to go on chalky and require more effort to rub in).

Go for Lower SPF

I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but you really don’t need SPF over about 30. After that point you’re getting diminishing returns (SPF 15 blocks about 94% of sun’s rays, while SPF 30 blocks about 97%, and SPF 45 blocks 98%… you get the idea).

Beyond this, though, higher SPF can lead you to believe you’re much more protected than you really are. This is because sunscreens will protect you against UVB rays (which cause burns), but not UVA rays. UVA rays can still cause premature aging and can put you at risk for skin cancers. If you’re using a chemically-based sunscreen, higher SPF also requires higher concentration of the chemicals in question… and their health effects are questionable at best. 

The Other Side of the Argument: Vitamin D

If you’re only going to be outside for 5-15 minutes, especially in the early morning or late evening, sun screen probably isn’t necessary. In fact, it’s a good idea to expose yourself to some rays directly, as this will give you a big boost of Vitamin D without the damage that can occur with longer sun exposure.

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