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How to Pick the Perfect Sunscreen

In the summertime, I keep my beach bag packed with a towel, goggles and a swimsuit. I’m ready to jump in a lake (or pool or river) at a moment’s notice.

I love to have fun in the sun, but choosing the right sunscreen can slow me down. There are so many options! How do I know I’ve got the right protection?

Here are a few key questions to help you navigate the sunscreen aisle quickly:

What’s my number? This one is kind of a no-brainer, because the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (water-resistant when appropriate), with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.

  • Light bulb: Read labels carefully, because only broad spectrum sunscreen offers protection from both UVB sun rays, which is linked to skin cancer and can cause redness and burning, and UVA rays, which can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging.

What’s the deal with physical vs. chemical? Physical sun blocks reflect rays with minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These sunscreens sit on top of the skin, so they work immediately. Chemical sunscreens protect skin by absorbing the sun’s rays. They do this by actually seeping deep within the skin.

  • Here’s the rub: Because they remain on top of the skin, physical sunscreens can look chalky. It may take a little extra elbow grease to apply a thin, even layer.
  • Burning questions: Research suggests that some chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, can mimic and disrupt hormones. Some ingredients in chemical sunscreens are also toxic to aquatic life in oceans, rivers and lakes.

To nano or not to nano? For greater ease of application, some physical sunscreens contain very, very small nanoparticles.

  • Small print: Molecules at the nano size seem to behave differently from a chemical and biological standpoint, and the long-term effects are unknown.

What else do I need? The sun is hard on skin, so choose sunscreen that not only protects, but nourishes with high levels of nutrient-rich ingredients, including green tea, soy, milk thistle, shea butter, sea buckthorn and carrot oil.

  • Seeing red? You're probably not blushing, you're starting to burn. At that point it's too late for more sunscreen; it's time to take a break and have fun in the shade.
  • Don’t forget a good sun hat and other protective clothing.

Rarin’ to get outdoors? Maybe these questions are more than you want to ponder at the pool? Here’s a quick and easy solution: just look for sunscreen with the Whole Foods Market® Premium Body Care™ logo.

Our Premium Body Care standards prohibit chemical sunscreen active ingredients, and all Premium Body Care products are carefully screened for particle size: manufacturers must submit test results showing the absence of nano-particles in these products.

You can find store-specific Premium Body Care product lists on your local store’s webpage. Find a store here.

What do you look for when you’re choosing sunscreen?