Everyone knows the first rule of summer: Don’t forget your sunscreen. But we’ve seen article after article lately about how sunscreens don’t really work, that they’re damaging our coral reefs, or that they even cause cancer (… they don’t).
It seems like there are a ton of factors we need to consider before we even step outside in the morning, which is, frankly, just exhausting. So here’s a guide to help you choose sunscreens that are great for you and the environment—plus eight of our current favorites.
First off, here’s what you need to know about UV rays.
Before you can begin to choose the best protection, you need to know what you’re protecting yourself from. Basically, there are two types of ultraviolet rays from the sun that reach the Earth’s surface: UVA and UVB.
J. Scott Kasteler, M.D., describes UVA rays as the “aging” rays—they are prevalent all day, travel through glass (such as car windows), and penetrate deep into the skin, decreasing elasticity and causing wrinkles.
UVB rays have shorter wavelengths and don’t penetrate the skin as deeply, though they are more associated with sunburns and skin cancer, says dermatologist Scott Dunbar, M.D. He emphasizes that both types of UV rays are harmful to the skin and should be protected against with “broad spectrum” sunscreens, which address both UVA and UVB exposure.