Jacob Wackerhausen/iStockphoto

DCL

We all know the importance of lathering up in sunscreen when in the sun. I no longer go out with anything less than 30 SPF layered on my skin. The sun is just too powerful. I always wear a hat these days, I mean I am ever so close to thirty and I see no reason to aid in the formation of wrinkles. People are even becoming more aware of which sunscreens they choose for themselves and the planet. But what toxins should we really look out for in sunscreen? Well, thanks to Environmental Working Group, the answer is much simpler than one would expect. Annually the EWG releases a study on safe sunscreens.

Only 14 percent of 1,232 products analyzed met EWG's criteria for safety and effectiveness, according to the study. Many products lack UVA protection. In fact 8 percent of high SPF sunscreens (SPF of at least 30) protect only from sunburn (UVB radiation), and do not contain ingredient combinations known to protect from UVA, the sun rays linked to skin damage and aging, immune system problems, and potentially skin cancer. Currently the FDA does not require that sunscreens guard against UVA radiation.

If you don't have time to read the entire study here are some highlights:

Avoid spray or powder suntan lotions with nano-scale zinc oxide.

Micronized and nano-scale zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen provide strong UVA protection, and while these ingredients have not been found to penetrate healthy skin, powder and spray products are inhaled. You can actually inhale these small particles and they can potentially damage your lungs. The EWG is unclear as to the extent of damage nano-scale oxide causes but much of Europe is currently phasing out its use according to EWG.

Avoid oxybenzone.

Oxybenzone, on the other hand, is a widely utilized ingredient that rates poorly due to high absorption through skin, high rates of allergic reactions, and growing concerns about hormone disruption. Some animal studies indicate we should be concerned about oxybenzone because it is found to have weak estrogenic effects in fish. What some experts suspect happens is that the body interprets the presence of the chemical as some sort of hormone according to EWG. Numerous other studies have linked oxybenzone to health concerns including endocrine disruption, cell damage, and cancer.

Make sure the sunscreen has at least 7 percent zinc oxide to replace oxybenzone.

Zinc oxide is a physical sun blocker meaning that the product reflects and blocks UV rays but it's not absorbed into the system like other active ingredients, it remains on the surface. This means that zinc protects the skin very effectively without seeping into your system. Zinc isn't a toxin itself but replaces oxybenzone as the main sun blocking ingredient.

Avoid fragrance.

As with other cosmetic products it's best to avoid fragrance unless the fragrance is plant based. A loophole in federal law doesn't require companies to declare any of the dozens of toxic chemicals that a single product's fragrance mixture could contain. Artificial fragrances, which frequently contain phthalates, can also trigger allergic reactions and other health problems. Be mindful of the hidden dangers that "fragrance" or "parfum" listed on ingredients labels can pose, and always choose fragrance-free products.

TreeHugger's sunscreen picks.