It feels like we’re in a lose-lose situation when it comes to the sun. We’re scared of it, we’re scared of sun cancer and now we’re also scared of sunscreen because it just might be the MOST TOXIC THING EVER. But what’s the truth? What’s healthy? What’s not? Read on to find what to look for – and avoid – while searching for safe sunscreen for your family.
I know this isn’t a popular thing to say, but we do need to expose ourselves to the sun.
Just like plants glean nutrients from the sun, so do our bodies. Our skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. Sunlight also helps to establish our circadian rhythm, which affects sleep, energy, and hormones.
Humans need sunshine to thrive, but too much of a good thing is too much. Overexposure to UV light can damage the skin, leading to photo aging and cancer. Once we hit our own unique sun exposure threshold, we then need to seek out a physical barrier to protect our skin from the sun.
This physical barrier can be one of three things:
A mineral-based sunscreen
Let’s back up a step.
There are two types of sunscreen: mineral and chemical.
Mineral sunscreens use minerals (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) that sit on top of the skin and act as a physical barrier to the sun, therefore blocking ALL of the sun’s rays. These minerals are not absorbed into the bloodstream.
Chemical sunscreens use chemical UV filters to keep out some of the sun’s rays. These sunscreens also include ingredients to help the product adhere to skin, which increases absorption into the body. Oxybenzone is a common active chemical used, and it is found in 70% of chemical sunscreens.
What is the better bet? Read on for what to avoid and what to use.
What To Avoid
The chemicals used in these sunscreens contribute to skin allergies and hormone disruption. Hormone disruption is HUGE as it can negatively impact every system in your entire body.
These harmful chemicals do get into our bodies – they are found in blood, urine and breastmilk. Oxybenzone has been detected in 96% of Americans.
Finally, oxybenzone leaches nutrients and bleaches coral reefs, negatively impacting fish and other wildlife.
Oxybenzone is a bad mamba jamba. Avoid it.
Guys, I know this one stings. Spray is SO easy, especially when you’re corralling multiple kiddos. But convenience comes at a price. Spray sunscreens pose a huge inhalation risk; these ingredients are not meant to be inhaled into the lungs. It’s sort of like summer’s second hand smoke – I hold my breath and cover my kid’s mouth when someone starts spraying. I swear I’m not crazy, I just really like my lungs. Breathing rules!
Higher SPF contains a higher concentration of harmful, hormone-disrupting chemicals…for no good reason. SPF beyond 50 doesn’t really mean anything. You have to apply SPF 50 just as often as SPF 30 (every 2 hours, or after swimming, sweating or drying off.) If you’re avoiding chemical sunscreens, you probably won’t see high SPF anyway.
Retinyl palmitate is a form of Vitamin A added to skincare products – including sunscreen – for skin enhancing effects (like slower skin aging). However, it may speed the growth of skin tumors when applied to skin in the presence of sunlight. Avoid this – and all retinol ingredients – in your skincare. Good news? You can get the skin benefits of Vitamin A naturally by consuming it through food.
What To Look For
Zinc oxide-based sunscreen sticks
Here’s the deal: minerals can separate from other suspension ingredients in a sunscreen cream, and we really have no way of knowing. Since these formulas are super thick, they’re very hard to shake up. So when using a mineral sunscreen – even if the ingredients are top-notch – it’s hard to know how much you’re actually being covered.
My Personal Favorites
This is not an exhaustive list, but these sunscreens follow all of the above rules, and are rated a 1 on the EWG Skin Deep List, which represents the lowest hazard. If you use and love a certain sunscreen that’s not listed here, cross reference it with the Skin Deep database – it will give you a score based on safety.
This is my hands-down favorite and what I use on myself and my family. There is a cream, a face sunstick and a larger size sunstick for body. The sticks are very convenient for children, and the cream rubs in very well for full coverage on larger body parts. Both stick and cream leave NO white residue, and they smell like Tootsie rolls!
Badger Sunscreen Stick
A small family-run NH-based company, Badger is a company to support. Their ingredients are simple and safe, and their products are affordable. The sunscreen does go on very thick and very white.
Locally, you can find this at the Portsmouth Health Food Center, Dover Natural Marketplace, Hampton Natural Food Store, and Hannaford.
Great ingredients, goes on very white. They do make sticks and a pump spray in addition to creams.
Locally, you can find this at Portsmouth Health Food Center, Dover Natural Marketplace, Hampton Natural Food Store, Jane Gee in Portsmouth, Mustard Seed in Nottingham, and Elemental Medicine in Rochester.
I haven’t personally used this myself, but it’s worth a mention. This was designed with the coral reef in mind, but is also safe for human use. The cream is much thinner than other mineral-based formulas and rubs in very well. They also make sticks.
Locally, you can purchase this at Jane Gee.
*Note: These formulas contain titanium dioxide. There is some evidence that suggests titanium dioxide can change when exposed to light. Certain forms of the mineral release radicals that may damage cell DNA. Having said that, these sunscreens score very well on the EWG Skin Deep List.