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  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Best & worst sunscreens

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Coming back to New Zealand, I was surprised to find out that there are no standards in place for sunscreens. Apparently, compliance is voluntary and is left up to the manufacturer. Unlike in Europe, Australia and the USA - in New Zealand sunscreen doesn't need to meet any standards. For a country that has the highest rates of skin cancers in the world - how can that be??

While Consumer NZ performs some testing on sunscreens, it doesn't pay enough attention to the effect the toxic ingredients have on us. Therefore, I suggest you take a look at the extensive tests done by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals.

The skin is our largest organ and by putting sunscreen on, many of the chemicals are absorbed into our body and they can be measured in blood, breast milk and urine samples.

It's vital that you inform yourself and be aware of what you put on your skin!

What's in sunscreens?

Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms - mineral and chemical filters. Each uses a different mechanism for protecting skin and maintaining stability in sunlight.


The most common sunscreens on the market contain chemical filters. These products typically include a combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

EWG has reviewed the existing data about human exposure and toxicity for the most commonly used sunscreen chemicals. The most worrisome is oxybenzone, added to nearly 65 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens in EWG’s 2017 sunscreen database. To read the full report, click here.

Another additive to look out for is vitamin A - this may actually speed up development of skin cancer. The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A to some sunscreens, moisturizers with SPF, and lip products with SPF. Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging. But studies by federal government scientists indicate that it may trigger development of skin tumors and lesions when used on skin in the presence of sunlight. Other governments warn that cosmetics may contribute to unsafe amounts of vitamin A and recommend against using vitamin A-laden cosmetics on the lips and over large portions of the body.

EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions that contain vitamin A or retinyl palmitate, which is also called retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol.


Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. A handful of products combine zinc oxide with chemical filters.

Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide generally score well in EWG’s ratings because:

  • They provide strong sun protection with few health concerns.

  • They don’t break down in the sun.

  • Zinc oxide offers good protection from UVA rays. Titanium oxide’s protection isn’t as strong, but it’s better than most other active ingredients.

Best Sunscreens

  • Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 50

  • Babyganics Mineral-Based Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50+

  • Bare Republic Clearscreen Sunscreen Gel, Sport, SPF 30

  • Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, Baby, SPF 50

  • Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Baby, SPF 30+

  • CeraVe Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 45

  • Goddess Garden Organics Facial Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30

Worst sunscreens

EWG focused even more closely on children’s sunscreens this year, in part because children are more susceptible to certain toxic chemicals during development and because blistering sunburns early in life can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer down the line. While other brands received low scores, EWG specifically called out the following brands because they earned the worst scores.

  • Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100

  • Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100

  • Coppertone Foaming Lotion Sunscreen Kids Wacky Foam, SPF 70

  • Coppertone Sunscreen Continuous Spray Kids, SPF 70

  • Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Kids, SPF 70

  • Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Water Babies, SPF 70+

  • Coppertone Sunscreen Stick Kids, SPF 55

  • Coppertone Sunscreen Stick Water Babies, SPF 55

  • Coppertone Sunscreen Water Babies Foaming Lotion, SPF 70

  • CVS Health Children’s Sunstick Sunscreen, SPF 55

  • Equate Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70

  • Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 60+

  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70+

  • Up & Up Kids Sunscreen sticks, SPF 55

While it's important to know which sunscreens to use, it is equally important to be "sun wise" by

  • Wearing protective clothes, like sun hats, t-shirts and shorts

  • Wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes

  • Staying in the shade whenever possible

  • Going outdoors in the mornings/evenings and staying under cover when the sun is high



Consumer NZ

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