You head to your local Target or browse Amazon only to find that your favorite sunscreen is no longer available. After a bit of research, you realize it’s been recalled due to carcinogens. Now, you’re freaked out and sunscreen-less, but don’t worry—we got some advice from the experts.
Not only did we talk to dermatologists about what the sunscreen recall means, but they also broke down how best to replace your former favorite, and even offered a few recommendations.
In July 2021, the independent, for-profit testing lab, Valisure, found a chemical carcinogen known as benzene in 78 of 300 sunscreens that were tested. You can find the entire list of both the benzene positive and benzene negative sunscreens if this is the first you’re hearing about this.
Benzene has been linked to immune system issues, cellular dysfunction, and anemia, however, it’s not an ingredient normally used in sunscreen. These findings are likely due to contamination at the manufacturer, although more research is needed to determine the cause.
Exposure to benzene is not uncommon. It can be found in low levels in outdoor air from tobacco smoke, gas stations, car exhaust, and emissions from industrial sites.
While all of this sounds scary, Dr. Marisa K. Garshick of MDCS Dermatology said it’s best not to panic at the moment.
“While benzene is known to have harmful effects, it is unknown how much that was present in sunscreen is actually absorbed into the system, and as such, how likely it is to cause any harm,” Garshick said. “While this exposure to benzene in sunscreen should be avoided, it’s also important to remember this is not the only way you could be exposed to this ingredient.”
Dr. Hadley King agreed that more research is needed to determine how benzene affects the skin when the body is exposed topically, as most research is focused on inhalation. Still, King pointed out that ultraviolet radiation is a well-known carcinogen, so avoiding sunscreen due to these findings “could be more harmful than exposure to trace amounts of benzene.”
As a result of these findings, both Johnson & Johnson and CVS have recalled sunscreens. If you were partial to one of their products, its disappearance from shelves means you need a new one. But, how do you choose?
According to King, the most important thing about a sunscreen is its SPF. She told LifeSavvy you should always use an SPF of 30 or higher to provide the most protection. Don’t fall for the trap that a higher SPF means a better sunscreen, either.
“If adequately applied, sunscreens with sky-high SPFs offer only slightly better protections from sunburn than an SPF of 30,” King said. “The difference in UVB protection between an SPF 100 and an SPF 50 is marginal. Far from offering double the blockage, SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98%, and SPF 30 blocks 96.7%.”
But now that you’re on the hunt for a new sunscreen, and you know it needs to be SPF 30, which one should you try? We asked both of the dermatologists we spoke with for their recommendations to help you choose the best one for you.
King’s first recommendation is on the pricier side, but it’s actually two products in one. She like it because it “provides not only 100% mineral broad-spectrum SPF 50+ sunscreen, but it also contains DNA repair enzymes to help address previous sun damage.”
This means it repairs and protects at the same time. King also likes that it’s lightweight, easy to use, and water-resistant for 40 minutes.
ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ Zinc Oxide
Repairs existing sun damage and protects against current exposure.
For reapplying your sunscreen throughout the day, King said Brush-On Block is the ideal option.
The dermatologist recommends the formula for its oil-absorbing properties which make it both an effective finish powder as well as a layer of SPF. She also said that thanks to its powder formula, the sunscreen is easy to add reapply over top of makeup making touch-ups and reapplications easier than liquid formulas.
Brush On Block Mineral Sunscreen Powder
Best to apply over makeup.
When it comes to sensitive skin, King and Garshick actually have the same recommendation: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen.
“[It] rubs in clear and contains aloe vera, shea butter, sunflower seed oil, and vitamin E to nourish the skin,” said King. “It’s non-comedogenic and does not contain parabens or fragrances—making it a good fit for sensitive skin.”
Garshick likes this sunscreen particularly for those with sensitive skin, as it’s free of active chemical ingredients, parabens, and fragrances. She also likes that it’s water-resistant and that the packaging turns blue whenever it’s in damaging UV light.
King’s final recommendation was SunBetter’s Sheer SPF 70. According to the dermatologist, the product features an 80-minute wear time and is water-resistant. She also describes it as having a “nice, creamy texture,” and cites its oil-free formulation.
Garshick’s first recommendation is Melē’s sunscreen oil, particularly for those with deeper complexions. Many sunscreens leave behind a white cast that is particularly noticeable on those with melanin-rich skin.
“[Melē] is a great option, especially for those with darker skin types,” Garshnik said. “This sunscreen oil is lightweight, fast-absorbing, and won’t leave the skin feeling greasy.”
For those who want a hybrid makeup and sunscreen, Garshick recommends ColorScience, which offers a very sheer tint along with its SPF.
She noted this product’s formulation of zinc and iron oxides, as well as its antioxidants, as these are particularly good for protecting against UVA and UVB rays, blue light, pollution, and infrared radiation. Plus, it’s good for all skin types.
“It is available in four different shades making it easy to blend with your skin for natural coverage,” Garshick said. “It uses iron oxide pigments to adapt to your specific tone, without leaving the skin feeling greasy.”
Colorescience Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50
For those who want a bit of color with their sun protection.
With so many popular sunscreens being pulled from shelves thanks to the recall, lots of people have found themselves without their favorite SPF. As sun protection is always a must for maintaining healthy skin, these recommendations from the experts will help you quickly replace your sunscreen and keep those damaging rays at bay.