The Best and Worst Sunscreens, According to Researchers

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iStock

Still squeezing the last gloopy drops out of last year’s sunscreen bottle? Throw it out. It’s expired, for one thing. But you may also want to switch brands after reading the 2017 sunscreen report issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which finds that the majority of products on the market are ineffective, contain harmful ingredients, or both.

EWG researchers examined the safety and effectiveness of almost 1500 products, including sunscreen, moisturizers, and lip balms with SPF values.

The results were not reassuring. “The vast majority of sunscreens available to Americans aren’t as good as they should be,” senior research analyst Sonya Lunder said in a statement. In their report, Lunder and her colleagues emphasize the differences between sunscreen consumer protection in the United States and elsewhere.

“This year, we estimate that nearly every sunscreen we reviewed passes the FDA test,” the EWG researchers write, "but that about half of them would not offer enough UVA protection to be sold in Europe.”

The FDA has a cap on the percentage of active ingredients allowed, and most products use the same one, which means that a sunblock with SPF 100 may be no more effective than one with SPF 30. To get around this, some American products artificially inflate their SPF rating by using chemicals to prevent sunburn’s redness without actually protecting our skin from sun damage.

“High SPF is a marketing gimmick,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. “SPF values over 50 mislead people into thinking they are completely protected from sunburn and long-term skin damage. But instead, they may encourage people to spend more time in the sun, exposing themselves to more, not less, ultraviolet rays.”

Many of the sunscreens also contain ingredients like oxybenzone, which can affect our hormones, and vitamin A, which can make us even more sensitive to the Sun.

Some of the EWG's best-rated sunscreens:

1. Tom's of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion
2. Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen
3. Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen
4. Badger All Season Face Stick
5. Kiss My Face Organics Face & Body Sunscreen

Some of the best moisturizers with SPF:

1. Cetaphil Redness Relieving Daily Facial Moisturizer
2. The Body Shop Aloe Soothing Moisture Lotion, Sensitive Skin
3. La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream
4. Eucerin Daily Hydration Moisturizer and Sunscreen
5. Aveda Daily Light Guard Defense Fluid

Some of the worst for kids:

1. Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Kids
2. CVS Health Children's Sunstick Sunscreen
3. Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen
4. Coppertone Foaming Lotion Sunscreen Kids Wacky Foam
5. Equate Baby Sunscreen Lotion

To keep yourself and your skin safe, the EWG suggests the following steps.

First, recognize that sunscreen should not be your only form of sun protection. Sunglasses, shade, and hats are often far more effective.

“There is little scientific evidence to suggest that sunscreen alone reduces cancer risk,” the authors write, “particularly for melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Despite a growing awareness of the dangers of exposure to the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, and a multibillion-dollar sunscreen industry, melanoma rates have tripled over the past three decades.”

Second, use the guide to find the best products for you and your family. Stay away from oxybenzone and vitamin A. Avoid sprays, which just don’t work as well as we hope they will.

Third, apply liberally and often. You should use about a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen each time.

Finally, don’t forget to replace your sunscreen twice a year. After six months or so, the active ingredients begin to lose their punch.

Note: Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219

Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155

FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

What the Color Codes on Toothpaste Tubes Really Mean

PeopleImages/iStock via Getty Images
PeopleImages/iStock via Getty Images

Packaging details—like the circles on chip bags and the symbols on cosmetics labels—can be mystifying to the average consumer. For years, a graphic has circulated the internet claiming to explain the hidden meaning behind the colored markings on the bottom of toothpaste tubes. While it's true that those color codes are there for a reason, the reason is much less interesting than the online rumors suggest.

According to Snopes, a widely-shared image on social media alleges that the colors on the seams of toothpaste tubes correlate to certain types of ingredients. The picture shows four different colored markings, with green meaning natural, blue indicating natural and medicine, red meaning natural and chemical composition, and black signifying pure chemical.

This "decoding" isn't based in truth, however. The markings on toothpaste packaging have nothing to do with the ingredients inside the tube—and even if they did, classifications like natural and chemical are too vague to mean anything. The real reason the colors are there is to aid the machinery responsible for putting the packaging together. The tiny colored rectangles are actually called eye marks or color marks, and they tell light beam sensors where a tube needs to be cut or folded. Once the toothpaste reaches the store, the markings no longer serve a purpose.

If you do want to know more about the ingredients in your toothpaste, it's not as hard as deciphering a mysterious code. "Oral care companies don’t mark their toothpastes with colored squares to try to trick consumers and hide ingredients from them," Colgate writes on its website. "If you want to know what kind of ingredients your toothpaste has, don’t look for a colored block at the end of the tube. Instead, take a look at the packaging for a comprehensive list of ingredients."

You can find the ingredients in your toothpaste listed on the outer box and/or the tube itself—and you don't need to know any secret codes to read them.

[h/t Snopes]