The heat is on in the sun care department, with so much to consider when choosing safe sunscreens: Is nanotechnology bad? How do I know if my sunscreen is protecting me from UVB and UVA rays? Which sunscreens are best for sensitive skin? What are the safest options for my kids?

Questions like these prompted the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to launch its annual Sunscreen Report, and its updated 2011 edition helped us compile these 10 nontoxic sunscreen picks for you and your family. Whether you try out one of these options or head to your natural products retailer to find another product that’s right for you, heed some simple tips for making the safest choices for you and your family.

  • Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, nontoxic minerals that provide both UVA and UVB protection—rather than potentially toxic chemicals like oxybenzone, which also only block UVB rays (that's what SPF tells you).
     
  • Check the Environmental Working Group’s 2011 Sunscreen Report, which gives sunscreens safety ratings based on six criteria: UVB protection, UVA protection, UVA/UVB balance, sunscreen stability, health concerns, and other concerns. (All of its top picks are mineral sunscreens.) Plus, the EWG provides other helpful tips like why you shouldn’t trust high SPFs.
     
  • Consider the nanotechnology question (but not too much). The EWG’s stance is that nanoparticles are safe in lotion form but that you should avoid spray—or aerosolized—products, which pose inhalation risks. If you’re still concerned about skin absorption, look for companies that list “non-nano” before ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Some manufacturers are reformulating to create non-nano zinc options that apply sheer and offer the same UV protection. If a product's label or web site doesn’t include that info, the minerals are probably less than 100 nanometers, which is considered nano-sized.
     
  • Choose sunscreens with antioxidant-rich add-ins, such as green tea, vitamin E, and CoQ10, which provide additional protection from free-radical damage from the sun and environmental pollutants (but avoid antioxidant vitamin A in sunscreen, which has been linked to cancer). If you have supersensitive skin, look for products that are oil-free and pay careful attention to other ingredients on the list. You'll probably want to buy a face-specific sunscreen to avoid breakouts.