It's that time of year when we're all spending a lot of time outside. The comfortable temperatures and long days of direct sunlight tempt us to take our exercise routines outdoors and spend as much time not inside as possible. But as nice as it is to soak up nature and the lovely weather, you also risk sun exposure.

If you listen to the advice of your dermatologist, you know that prolonged exposure to daylight can be harmful to the skin and accelerate the look of aging by prematurely causing UV damage. The best way to protect yourself is through the use of sunscreens with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor).

The irony here is that while we're following good advice to protect ourselves with SPF sunscreens, we inadvertently use potentially toxic and untested ingredients to do so. One recent comprehensive study of 1,700 widely-available sun protections products uncovered that 80% had harmful ingredients or inadequate protection.

If you want to protect yourself from the sun and harmful chemicals, here are five critical things you should know and consider when buying a sunscreen:

1. Use a mineral-based natural sunscreen.

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Make sure your sunscreen is a mineral sunscreen and not a chemical one. The key mineral ingredient to look for is either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are natural sunscreens that give you the best protection without the commonly found hormone disrupting ingredients you'll find in most drugstore brands.

The most common ingredient to stay away from in popular chemical sunscreens is oxybenzone. Other potentially harmful chemical additives in sunscreens inlcude octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

2. Use makeup with an SPF.

If you're not spending a lot of time outdoors but still have some intermittent sun exposure in your daily routine, using a daily moisturizer, foundation or lip balm an SPF is a great alternative to lathering on sunscreen.

However, even with a brand claiming its products are "mineral," you need to check the label to make sure they're not combining harmful ingredients with the mineral sunscreens. A common ingredient used by some of the largest mineral makeup brands is bismuth oxychloride. While bismuth is indeed a naturally occurring mineral, bismuth oxychloride is certainly not. In fact, it's a metal derivative commonly obtained as a byproduct of lead and copper smelting. It's also a known irritant, that can cause itchiness and rashes.

3. Use moisturizers and lip balms with SPF.

Find a natural beauty brand that has SPF moisturizers and lip products. The majority of commonly purchased skincare and lip products with SPF tend to include the aforementioned harmful chemical sunscreens. Additionally, they may also have dangerous parabens, polyethelene and artificial fragrance as ingredients.

4. Anything above SPF 50 doesn't make a difference.

Many sun care products are labeled with SPF ratings over 50. Common sense tells you that the higher the SPF, the more protection you're getting. But this is just a marketing ploy to get your attention. When it comes to anything over 50, there's only a very slight difference between something with an SPF 50 and SPF 100; don't be fooled into a false sense of security that you can lather on SPF 100 and not reapply all day.

Furthermore, an SPF rating applies to sunscreen's ability to block UVB rays (the burning ones), not the UVA rays that can cause premature aging and skin cancer. A safe bet is broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

5. Stay away from spray sunscreens.

Even the safest mineral sunscreens are intended to be applied topically, not ingested. So don’t buy a spray which when used as intended will inevitably be inhaled. Additionally, you may not be getting the protection you desire with a spray because in liquid form, it doesn't cover the skin completely and may not hit all the areas you need to cover.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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