Quick Guide to Sunscreen Safety

Canadian summers can seem much too short most years, so it’s certainly tempting to spend as much time outside basking in the sunshine before we have to return to our sweaters in the autumn. The sun elevates our mood, warms our bodies, and provides us with much-needed vitamin D.

Unfortunately, with prolonged exposure, it can also burn the skin, increase the risk of skin cancers, and accelerate aging (think of those leathery sun-worshippers).

Bummer! What about your perfect vision of kids prancing through sunny meadows on long summer days? Fear not – you just have to find the right type of sun protection for your family, so you can safely soak in the warmth.

Free Vitamin D

Given the amount of benefit that we get from having some sun exposure, if you and the kids are only in the sun a handful of minutes, don’t worry about slathering on too much of the sunscreen – that’s your opportunity to get some vitamin D. However, if you think sun exposure will be longer than 15-20 minutes at a time, it’s a good idea to protect exposed skin.

Don’t let a white sky fool you, though! UV rays can penetrate thin clouds and burn you anyway.

How To Choose A Safe Sunscreen

The selection of sunscreens and sun blocks on the market is huge, but with the help of the Environmental Working Group , we’ll help you wade through most of them.

SPF (sun protection factor)

This number tells you how many minutes you can be exposed to UVB rays without burning, but it won’t necessarily apply to UVA rays, which are also damaging. So while it seems intuitive to get the highest number and apply less, you will be skimping on protection in the long run. Stick to 30 or 50 – any higher is not necessarily more beneficial. Reapply often, and especially after sweating and swimming.


Studies are slowly revealing that the old-school chemicals that are put in most generic sunscreens are harmful the body. The worst offender is oxybenzone. It appears that it can penetrate the skin, enter the bloodstream, and start interfering with hormones. Though the research is not too robust, I feel safe suggesting to avoid it.

Quick guide to sunscreen safety

Instead, opt for products whose active ingredients are the minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Remember when people sat on the beach with white paste on their noses? Yup, it’s zinc oxide.

Mineral formulas do not penetrate the skin, have no evidence of hormone disruption, and offer the best sun protection by completely blocking UV rays. The even better news is that they have been formulated to blend invisibly into the skin.


Stick to creams. Spray-on sunscreens are more expensive, finish fast, are wasteful, and worst of all, you will breathe it in. If it’s not good on the skin, it will be worse in your lungs.

Vitamin A

If you see vitamin A or retinyl palmitate in the ingredients, avoid that brand. Vitamin A is good for the skin so long as it’s not exposed to sunlight. Once it is, it can form free radicals that damage living cells.

The EWG website lists brands that are considered the safest for you and your little ones. You can also do your own browsing at the store now that you know what to look for.

Good luck and happy sunning!