Is Sunscreen Safe to Use?

Woman at poolside

It’s getting to be sunscreen weather, at least in the PNW. You may be there already–I know we start this party later than the rest of the country. With the sunny days comes the questions around whether or not to use sunscreen. Aren’t there a lot of chemicals in it that are best avoided? What should we avoid and which brands are best? And what about getting enough Vitamin D? You may not have even known that there is a growing controversy around sunscreen.

The controversy around sunscreen is that most brands have a lot of toxic chemicals in them known to do us harm. Sure, they may help us from not getting burned which we all know is bad for potentially getting skin cancer. No one wants skin cancer so we use sunscreen to avoid getting burned, but how bad are these chemicals we’re putting on our skin, thus absorbing into our system? What harm do they do? And isn’t a little sun a good thing?

Some people contend that sun exposure is good for us, we need Vitamin D and as long as we don’t get burned, it’s okay to go out in the sun. For the most part, I agree with this stance. Vitamin D is beneficial for a number of reasons, it helps our bodies absorb calcium making our bones strong, it activates the T-cell cancer fighters in our immune system, it lowers blood pressure and hypertension. Low levels have been linked to increased risk of type 1 diabetes, as well as cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, ovaries, esophagus, and lymphatic system. Since I’ve had two of those cancers now, I am all about Vitamin D!

So do we want to block our Vitamin D absorption by constantly slathering on sunscreen when out in the sun? Yes and no. I recommend getting 15 minutes of direct sun a day, long enough to get our daily D dose, but short enough to not burn our skin.

Since we do need sunscreen for anything beyond that 15 minutes, be aware of some of the nasty chemicals found in the most popular brands of sunscreen. Read labels and look for Oxybenzone and Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate) the two most toxic chemicals widely used in the U.S. brands of sunscreen. According to the Environmental Working Group, ( these are known hormone disruptors that act like estrogen in the body, alter sperm production in animals, are associated with endometriosis in women, and cause thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies. Other chemicals to look for are Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene which have moderate toxicity concerns. As with all of your personal care products, you also want to make sure that your brand doesn’t contain parabens or phthalates.

So what brands are good? With over 1800 products to choose from, making a choice can be challenging. Here’s what to look for:

  1. Look for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide based mineral sunscreens, which do not penetrate the skin and provide UVA protection against the sun’s most damaging rays.
  2. Choose non-nano products that do not have small particles that can absorb into skin
  3. Choose sunscreens that are unscented or use essential oils as fragrance
  4. Pick lotion based sunscreens with water resistance
  5. Pick broad spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB rays
  6. Choose sunscreen products that are rated 0-2 in the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide.

I pulled the above list and the following recommended brands from Vani Hari who has done extensive research on the subject. People may not like The Food Babe, but she does do her research! Here is her list of recommended brands:

  1. Badger– Certified organic, several different SPFs and option for kids, babies and active people, unscented available
  2. Thinkbaby/Thinksport– Great for athletes, kids and adults for prolonged exposure in sun.
  3. John Masters Organics– SPF 30, only one option available
  4. Seventh Generation– SPF 30, only one option available
  5. Aubrey Organics– SPF 26-45 available, unscented available
  6. Raw Elements– The first organic, non-GMO certified sunscreen.
  7. Sunology – Kids, Face and Body Protection
  8. California Baby(Target carries this brand) – Formulated for sensitive skin, SPF 18-30

So enjoy the sunny days and get your vitamin D. As with everything, just don’t overdo it and wear a quality sunscreen.



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Heidi Hackler - May 20, 2015

GREAT article Laren! There’s a lot of interesting correlation between skin cancers and sunscreen when you look at the research. Skin cancer rates have increased along with the use of sunscreens – so it’s hard to say, chicken-or-egg? I prefer to get my vitamin D through my skin where it is synthesized naturally as you mention. But when I do wear sun screen, I use Andalou Naturals Un-tinted SPF 30 which works GREAT and scores a 1 on the EWG Skindeep database:
Keep up the awesome information Laren! 🙂

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