What Are The Worst Sunscreens?

Family Wearing Bad Sunscreen at the Beach

As previously mentioned in our blog highlighting the disadvantages of sunscreen, not all sunscreens are created equal. In fact, some are so bad we aren’t comfortable recommending them as complements to our sun block clothing. However, because sunscreen products and ingredient compositions constantly change, listing qualities of the worst sunscreens is more helpful than a list of specific sunscreens to be avoided. Effectively, these are the types of sunscreens that are the worst, featuring more of the attributes and ingredients that make bad sunscreens bad.

Sun Block with Unnecessarily High SPF Ratings

Many sunscreens attempt an appearance of additional effectiveness by means of the highest SPF rating possible. While this alone does not make sunscreen unsafe or bad, it is misleading. This is because an SPF 50 and SPF 100 lotion both need to be reapplied every 1-2 hours, yet higher SPF ratings sometimes fool people into thinking they can stay in the sun longer. Meanwhile, during that 1-2 hour time period, you are only receiving marginally better protection, as SPF 50 already blocks 98% of UVB rays. As a result, we agree with the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendation of at least SPF 30, but anything from SPF 30 through SPF 50 is ideal.

Sunscreens that Damage Coral Reefs

Another common feature in the worst sunscreens is a long list of coral-bleaching ingredients. Only additional research can reveal the full extent of damage sunscreens cause to coral reefs. However, as of now, both oxybenzone and octinoxate are linked to coral bleaching. Unfortunately, at least one of these ingredients is found in many sunscreen products. Of course, if you definitely aren’t going into the water, then this is less concerning. 

Coral Reef with Sea Turtle damaged by Sun Block

Expensive Sunscreens

Our next gripe with the worst sunscreens has to do with their price. Sunscreen is not cheap, and a quality sunscreen usually costs anywhere from $2-4 per ounce. Prices can escalate quickly into the $5+ dollars per ounce, especially for face lotions. Given that you should be applying at least 1 ounce per application, you’ll run through bottles quickly. With Rayward Apparel’s sun block clothing, on the other hand, your protection isn’t on a timer and won’t run out. In fact, if you consistently wear UPF apparel, you’ll quickly start saving money by needing to buy less sunscreen.

Non-water Resistant Sunscreens

Another set of sunscreens that you may consider avoiding are those that aren’t water resistant. The FDA allows sunscreens to claim either 40-minute or 80-minute water resistance. All things equal, we prefer the 80-minute water resistance. You should know that currently, not sunscreen is “waterproof.” Seriously reconsider any sunscreen making such claims. If you want waterproof protection, wear UPF clothing that maintains its UV protective qualities even when wet, such as Rayward Apparel’s bamboo-based Sun Bound collection.

Palm Tree Blocking Sun

Non-Broad Spectrum Sunscreens

While some of the previous sunscreen issues could be a matter of personal preference, this one is not up for debate. Therefore, we’ll keep it short: you NEED broad-spectrum sunscreen. Broad-spectrum sun block protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and anything else isn’t keeping you safe. Unless clearly labeled as “broad spectrum,” do not use it. Fortunately most popular sunscreens are now broad spectrum, and all UPF sun block clothing offers broad-spectrum protection.

For more information on decoding sunscreen labels, check out this handy guide from the American Academy of Dermatology:

If the above painted a dire picture of sunscreen, then take comfort in the fact that there are also many great sunscreens. Choosing the right one just requires considering how you intend to use your sunscreen, as well as carefully examining the product label. Also, some of our criteria for the best sunscreens are more about personal preference than they are about sun safety. So as long as your sunscreen’s qualities don’t prevent you from using the product properly and protectively, it’s ok! Perhaps you get more comfort using an SPF 75 instead of SPF 50, for instance. Or if you know you won’t be in the water, it’s probably ok if your favorite sunscreen isn’t reef-friendly or as water-resistant. 

Ultimately, you should be using sun block clothing to protect as much of your body as possible, and only relying on sunscreen (or a safe alternative) for the areas not covered by UPF apparel. To shop Rayward Apparel’s sun block clothing, also known as UPF apparel, click here!

What Is Bad About Sunscreen?

Woman Swimming with Sunscreen instead of SPF Shirt

You don’t have to spend much time with the Rayward Apparel Team to realize that we’re big fans of sunscreen. Broad-spectrum sunscreen is a critical part of sun safety, and we use it to complement the protection offered by our SPF shirts for men/women. However, sunscreen isn’t perfect, and there are many reasons we prefer SPF apparel, whenever possible. Continue below for more on what is bad about sunscreen, from application issues to ingredient concerns. At the same time, we’ll examine if those same issues exist with SPF shirts for men/women.

Marketing Gimmicks and SPF

Not every sunscreen is guilty of this, but far too many rely on gimmicks and misleading labels. Our main point of criticism is in SPF ratings. In sunscreen, most dermatologists recommend an SPF of 30-50. However, since you still need to reapply after 1-2 hours, there isn’t much benefit to going above SPF 50. A higher SPF isn’t necessarily bad for you, but misleading labeling often portrays them as being safer. An SPF 100 sunscreen, for instance, still needs to be reapplied as frequently as SPF 30 or SPF 50 lotion. It will probably cost you more, however. Speaking of cost…

Sunscreen is Expensive

Good sunscreen is expensive, often around $2-3 per ounce. And prices only go up as you include more criteria, such as non-greasy application, water resistance and reef-safe ingredients. Consider that it takes about 1-2 ounces of sunscreen to properly cover your exposed areas of your skin. Now remember that you need to reapply every 1-2 hours, based on activity. Given that, even a half-day at the beach could require an entire 8 oz bottle of sunscreen per person! Of course, the more of your body that is protected by UV protective clothing, the less sunscreen you need.

Sunscreen is Too Greasy

It may be a necessary evil, but it’s a common complaint that sunscreen leaves your skin feeling oily or greasy. Plus, with some sunscreens the same thing that makes them greasy also causes them to stain your clothes. Fortunately, there are now more sunscreens that both feel dry and don’t stain, but this is still a common problem with sunscreen. UV protective apparel, on the other hand, will of course not make your skin feel greasy. Plus, if it’s made with quality fabric blends, like the natural cottons and viscose from bamboo used in our Sun Bound collection, then the finished product is extremely soft, comfortable and lightweight!

Challenges Applying Sunscreen

Another big problem with sunscreen is in how it’s applied. With lotions, you may need the help of someone else to properly cover your hard-to-reach areas. Meanwhile, with spray lotions, you have to be careful not to overspray, contact your eyes or breathe in the fumes. Plus, for all varieties of sunscreen, you should apply 15 to 30 minutes prior to going out into the sun. This requires either waiting or a bit of planning ahead. Also, you’ll need to reapply your sunscreen at least every 2 hours, and possibly more often if you’re sweating or spending time in the water. With SPF shirts, on the other hand, your protection is instant and never lapses!.

Applying Sunscreen by Hand

Concerning Sunscreen Ingredients

Our final gripe with sunscreen regards ingredients. It seems like new research comes out weekly raising concerns about the safety of certain sunscreen chemicals, or their environmental impact. Some sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into your skin, and there’s much to learn about related health consequences, especially with children. As of now, the FDA isn’t saying sunscreen is unsafe, but they are requesting more research on the potential dangers of absorbing sunscreen chemicals through your skin. If this concerns you, choose a topical mineral sunscreen that sits on the surface of your skin. Additionally, mineral sunscreens (aka physical or natural sunscreens) don’t use ingredients linked to coral bleaching, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. If you think this is complicated and leaves too much to chance, then rely on UV protective clothing as much as possible. With UPF clothing, you don’t have to worry about chemicals being absorbed through your skin or damaging marine life.

Sunscreen vs SPF Shirts

Based on the above, you hopefully understand why we prefer SPF shirts for men/women instead of sunscreen, if possible. At the same time, we’re realistic and recognize that you can’t cover your entire body in UV protective clothing. Therefore, you should still make sunscreen (or a safe alternative to sunscreen) a regular part of your sun safety routine, along with sunglasses and head protection, but do so knowing how to avoid the worst sunscreens.

To learn more about Rayward Apparel’s SPF shirts for men/women, also referred to as UPF apparel, click here!

What Is the Best Sunscreen?

Sunscreen Lotion with SPF

To safely protect your skin from the sun, you need the complementary defenses of SPF clothing and sunscreen. For body parts coverable with UV protective apparel, we recommend SPF clothing for men/women. For more on the advantages of SPF clothing for men/women, click here. However, UV clothing won’t cover all of your skin, and those areas need protection too! Without further ado, continue below to learn about the best sunscreens.

Broad-spectrum or Bust

Simply put, you should not use any sunscreen that isn’t offering broad-spectrum protection. Without a broad-spectrum protection, your sunscreen is only blocking half of the sun’s damaging UV rays. A broad spectrum designation indicates protection against both UVA and UVB rays. An important distinction because UVA rays are linked to skin cancer, and UVB rays cause sunburn. Too much of either has negative health consequences, so protect yourself from both. Interestingly, all UPF-rated clothing is broad-spectrum, so you have a little less to worry about with UPF apparel.

SPF 30 or Higher Sunscreen

Dermatologists recommend using a minimum of SPF 30, and who are we to disagree? The advantage of SPF 30 sunscreen versus lower SPFs is that you are blocking more of the sun’s UV rays. Keep in mind, however, that a higher SPF does not mean you can suddenly spend hours in the sun. No matter your SPF, you still need to reapply every 1-2 hours. Relating SPF to UV clothing, consider that what SPF is to sunscreen, UPF is to fabric. Although different methods determine the exact ratings, the principle is the same. We recommend pairing your sunscreen with UPF 50+ apparel so that your clothing blocks over 98% of UV rays, which can still be accomplished with lightweight SPF clothing for men/women.

Lotion or Spray Sunscreen?

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends lotion sunscreen for a couple reasons. Firstly, it’s easier to make sure you apply the right amount when using a lotion. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about accidentally breathing in the overspray. Speaking of overspray, there is usually less waste with lotions as everything you squeeze out gets applied. Fans of sprays will point out the ease of application, especially if you’re covered in sand (or already sunburned… hey, mistakes happen!). We like the reassurance of a lotion, so that’s our go-to. Of course, we’ll admit that this one has a little more to do with personal preference, but now you know where we stand!

Sunscreen Lotion Squeeze Bottle

Water Resistance

Any sunscreen you plan to use around the water should have some degree of water resistance. The FDA regulates sunscreen claims of water resistance, allowing a water-resistant rating of either 40 or 80 minutes. All else equal, we recommend the 80-minute water resistance. This way you can spend more time swimming or surfing! Just remember, sunscreen is never waterproof, so always reapply after soaking or sweating.

Reef-safe Ingredients

Increasingly in the news are sunscreen ingredients and their impact on coral reefs and marine life. While much remains unknown about the full extent of any reported harmful effects of sunscreen, the best sunscreen is one that leaves nothing to chance. With that in mind, and based on data available at the time of our publication, we recommend “reef-friendly” sunscreens that avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate, both of which are generally recognized as damaging to coral reefs. In fact, you’ll likely notice an increasing number of beaches and destinations banning sunscreens containing these ingredients, so best to play it safe with effective natural sunscreens or mineral sunscreens.

Coral Reefs Impacted by Sunscreen Ingredients

Chemical vs Physical (Mineral) Sunscreens

The last decision you have to make about your sunscreen is choosing between a chemical or physical sunscreen (sometimes referred to as mineral or natural sunscreens). Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that are absorbed into your skin, while physical sunscreen ingredients sit on the surface of your skin. With a physical sunscreen, you are effectively creating a barrier of minerals to prevent UV rays from reaching your skin. Due to more research being available about physical/mineral sunscreen ingredients, we prefer these to their chemical counterpart.

There are many sunscreens that meet all of our performance criteria, so your decision usually comes down to budget, application type and ingredients. Of course, some sunscreens are bad and others should be avoided, but once you find a sunscreen that’s easy to apply and meets our safety requirements, just remember to use it! For help choosing the best sunscreen, check out our summary of the 10 Best Sunscreens of 2020! Keep in mind, however, that your best sun protection comes with a combination of sunscreen and UPF apparel. To find the right sun clothes to complement your sunscreen, shop our lightweight SPF clothing for men/women today!

Does All Clothing Have UPF?

Variety of Clothes, do they have UPF?

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, the degree to which a fabric protects you from UV rays. All fabrics have some level of protection, but without proper testing it’s impossible to know the exact UPF rating. Continue reading to learn the role of UPF ratings in UV protective clothing.

How Do I Know If My Shirt Has a UPF Rating?

Generally speaking, if a fabric has been tested to determine it’s UPF rating you will see it somewhere on the fabric itself. It may be fused onto the inside of the shirt, or on the tag. In addition, you can also quickly look it up online to see if the UPF rating is listed in the description. If you’ve checked all of those areas and still cannot find the UPF rating, it’s likely it was never tested. While most UV protective clothing goes through the extra steps of verifying it’s rating, it’s a costly process. Most clothing without UV protection in mind will not have the fabric lab tested, and thus will not have an official UPF rating.

What Is the UPF of a Cotton Shirt?

As mentioned previously, without proper testing it’s impossible to provide an exact number. There are a lot of different factors that impact a shirts UPF rating, so every shirt is different. However, a good rule of thumb for a fairly standard cotton shirt is to assume a UPF rating of about 5. UV protective clothing has a minimum rating of UPF 15, so 5 is far below anything professionals would consider ‘protective’. The following video provides a great summary of the difference a UPF rated shirt can provide versus your standard cotton shirt:

What Is Considered a Good UPF Rating for UV Protective Clothing?

The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) sets the standard for the different UPF ratings in the United States. They published the below chart, which determines the ‘protection category’ of different fabrics based on the UPF rating:

UPF RatingProtection Category% UV Radiation Blocked
UPF 15 – 24Good93.3 – 95.9
UPF 25 – 39Very Good96.0 – 97.4
UPF 40 – 50+Excellent97.5 – 98+

In summary, anything below UPF 15 does not even receive a protection category and is not considered UV protective clothing. At Rayward Apparel, we only sell apparel that has a UPF 50 rating or better, ensuring our customers are properly protected. 

You may be more familiar with SPF, as it’s the rating given to sunscreens. As far as the actual rating number is concerned, they represent the same level of protection. So a UPF shirt provides the same degree of protection as an SPF sunscreen, but there are some differences which you need to be aware of:

Is UPF The Same As SPF?

Umbrellas, UPF vs SPF

UPF is the rating given to fabrics, whereas SPF is the rating given to different sunscreens. The number itself is the same, it determines the protection factor in which it blocks UV rays. However, there is one major difference which is important to keep in mind: UPF is inherently broad-spectrum – it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. SPF on the other hand, only rates it’s effectiveness against UVA rays. So when buying UV protective clothing, no need to check for a “broad-spectrum” statement. But, when you are buying sunscreen make sure it’s labeled as “broad-spectrum” so you get full protection. Both UVA and UVB rays are linked to skin cancer, so you should definitely be protecting yourself from both.

What is the Difference Between UPF and SPF?

Kayaking at Sunset with UPF Protection

You’re probably familiar with the SPF (sun protection factor) ratings found on sunscreen, but what is UPF clothing? Did you know clothing has its own UV protection rating system? You’ll see this rating, known as an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF for short, when buying sun protective clothing or bamboo apparel. But what exactly do SPF and UPF ratings measure, and how do they compare?

Before we dive into the differences, it’s important to understand the reason we are protecting our skin at all. The ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are harmful, especially during long periods of exposure. Unprotected exposure to UV rays damages the skin, and cause over 90% of all nonmelanoma skin cancers.

Sunny blue sky with UV rays

Broad-Spectrum

Sunscreen labeled as “broad-spectrum” blocks both UVA (long wave ultraviolet A) and UVB (short wave ultraviolet B), each of which damages the skin. Any sunscreen not labeled broad-spectrum is generally designed simply to protect from short wave UVB rays to avoid a burn, but will not block harmful UVA rays. Whenever possible, always choose broad-spectrum protection.

SPF

SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and is a relative measure of a sunscreen’s effectiveness in protecting your skin from UV rays. A higher SPF rating means that it will block a higher percentage of UV rays, but nothing is 100%. The number generally correlates to the multiple of time in which you can avoid a burn. So if you would normally burn in 10 minutes, and properly applied an SPF 30 sunscreen, it would take you about 300 (10 x 30) minutes to burn (assuming you are constantly covered and re-applying).

UPF

So we know what Broad-Spectrum and SPF are, but what is UPF clothing? UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), on the other hand, is specific to sun protective fabrics. UV radiation can penetrate clothing and as with SPF, the higher the value, the more protection you receive. The specific UPF rating of the garment indicates the amount of the sun’s UV radiation it allows through. For example, a UPF 50 shirt only allows 1/50th or 2% of the UV rays through, a UPF 30 shirt only allows 1/30th or about 3% through, and so on. Plus, unlike sunscreen, UPF apparel always blocks both UVA and UVB rays and is always broad-spectrum.

UPF ratings can be difficult to identify, as they’re rarely marked in any product details. That is, unless the garment is specifically designed for UV protection. The average cotton t-shirt’s UPF value is 5 or less, and determining the exact UPF rating requires costly, time-consuming testing. Also, while it’s required that apparel show its country of origin and fabric content, there is no requirement for a manufacturer to provide the product’s UPF rating. This leads to many companies taking the cheap and easy route—not listing it at all. So in general, if an article of clothing does not have a UPF value listed (and it’s not thick like denim or heavy fleece), it’s safest to assume it does not provide significant UV protection.

Kayaking at Sunset with UPF Protection

SPF & UPF, In Summary:

  • SPF rates the UV protection effectiveness of sunscreens
  • UPF rates the UV protection effectiveness of protective fabrics
  • UPF is always broad-spectrum, SPF is not
  • Fabrics with UPF provide constant coverage, SPF and sunscreens need regular re-application to maintain protection
  • When choosing UPF apparel, look for ratings of UPF 50+ for the best protection

Rayward Apparel focuses exclusively on UPF 50+ apparel, specializing in sun protective shirts that are as comfortable as they are protective. Shop Rayward Apparel today!

Our vision sees through the sun’s glare and extends far beyond clothing. We go beyond clothing with our dedication to supporting the fight against skin cancer, donating 5% of all profits to charities with a similar vision to ours. Learn more about how we give back.

Source: Skin Cancer FoundationSkincancer.org

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