Screening sunscreens

Long summer days beckon you outside, but before responding to the sun’s seasonal call, be aware that more than 1.3 million people in the United States will develop skin cancer this year. It’s no wonder sunscreen is in hot demand. Although some skin-care products can help, others have incomplete UVA or UVB protection or contain toxic ingredients.

Start with natural sun protection—hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirt—and select a safe sunblock for you and your family. The following chart will help you choose when facing a shelf of products.

—Mary Shackelton, MPH, ND

Ingredients to avoid in sunscreen and after-sun products



Benzophenone-3, homosalate, octyl methoxycinnamate, 4 methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC), and octyl-dimethyl-PABA

When applied to breast cancer cells in vitro (test tubes), these chemicals increased cancer cell proliferation and growth.

Mineral oil

Pollutes watersheds and is not biodegradable.


Contributes to allergic reactions and rashes.


Damages and pollutes aquatic environments.

Ingredients to look for in sunscreen and after-sun products



Green tea (Camellia sinensis)

Reduces skin damage from sun radiation.

Titanium oxide

Provides a physical barrier to the sun; does not irritate skin; has light-reflective properties.

Vitamin C

Neutralizes UVA/UVB-induced free radicals.

Vitamin E

Offers antioxidant protection, which reduces cancer risk; slows cell damage; provides anticarcinogenic protection.

Zinc oxide

Protects against UVA and UVB rays.