Amber Orton

Amber Orton

What Should You Be Looking for in a Sunscreen?

What you need to know about sunscreen

Did you know synthetic sunscreens (most the sunscreens on the market) are technically sun filters? They absorb the sun’s UV energy and release it back into the air as heat. And although they are popular because they are easily absorbed, blended into the skin and transparent, but this perk comes with some harmful chemicals. Some of these being oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone. It’s also important to know that in Hawaii and in Key West Florida, oxybenzone and octinoxate are prohibited by law because of their damaging impact on the coral reef. Damage including deformities, bleaching, DNA damage and even death to the reef. Of course, anything damaging the water is going to impact the fish and amphibians living and reproducing within it. 

The environmental impact of these chemicals washing off our skin and into our oceans is a real problem. But they are also very much seeping into our bodies, much deeper than skin level. Multiple tests have discovered octinoxate in breastmilk. In addition, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and padimate O were also found in significant amounts. 

What is in a “safe” sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreens on the other hand are made from zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are physical particles that sit on the surface of the skin and scatter or redirect sun’s rays away from the skin. This is why they are less easily blended. Yet much better for your skin and overall health.

When looking for a mineral based sunscreen look for NON NANO zinc oxide or NON NANO titanium dioxide. If you choose options that are not non nano, this means they are made of coated nanoparticles which only sit on the surface of your skin and reflect UV light. They are more at risk of shedding if they are nanoparticles and therefor you’re more at risk of burning. In the world of skincare and marketing, these ingredients are sometimes called “organic” but they aren’t. Scientifically speaking, they are inorganic chemicals. So make sure you’re not buying into misleading marketing. 

Europe has much stricter standards for sunscreens than America. Many US sunscreens aren’t able to be sold in Europe because they offer too little UVA protection. These UVA rays don’t cause sunburn but can cause aging and contribute to melanoma. On average, US sunscreens allow three times more UVA rays to pass through the skin than EU formulas. 

So what should we look for as red flags?

There are some more popular brands of sunscreens claiming to be “superior” in terms of not using harmful chemical ingredients on the market. Many people are turning to Sun Bum for one. They do a great job marketing their sunscreen to be paraben-free, hypoallergenic, etc. However, if you refer to the ingredients they do contain many endocrine disruptors such as homosalate and octocrylene. Another important consideration is our typical behavior with sunscreens. We apply them to our skin, then without washing it off, we’re eating and/or drinking. Inadvertently consuming these chemicals. Even more so if using powered or spray sunscreens which will get into our lungs. What’s even more concerning is the proven nature of these chemicals to cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the risk of neurotoxicity.

Octocrylene produces excess reactive oxygen that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, and lead to cell death. It is also photosensitized, INCREASING the production of free radicals when skin is exposed to the sun.  which ultimately increases the risk of SKIN CANCER. The Environmental Working Group tested over 1,400 sunscreens and only 5% met their safety standard. While over 40% were listed as potentially contributing to skin cancer! Further, a vitamin A derivative, retinal palmitate, that is used in many sunscreens, was shown to even speed up cancerous cell growth by 21%. 

Homosalate is a potential endocrine disruptor – meaning it impacts hormones. It’s been shown to have a negative impact on estrogen and in one study even multiplied and grew human breast cancer cells. The chemical may also enhance the absorption of pesticides in the body. Some synthetic sunscreens can increase the risk of endometriosis, decreased sperm concentration, and for adolescent males- decrease testosterone levels. 

It’s easy to wonder why these chemicals are still so widely used and even approved by the FDA. Apparently, they had been used in sunscreens for so long, that when the FDA started regulating sunscreens in the 1970s, these chemicals were “grandfathered” in. Lately, more research is being done on the safety concerns of the above-listed chemicals, it will take overwhelming evidence to shift FDA approval. 

However, Europe has approved four additional chemicals for UVA protection but we in the US are still waiting for the FDA to approve them. 

This is why it’s important to look for safe sunscreen options, ESPECIALLY for your kids! If you watch out for one synthetic chemical, don’t use anything with oxybenzone on your kids. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s just not safe. The sunscreen I am using and currently recommend is Badger brand for kids and Beautycounter. It’s important to remember that the stronger the suns rays, and the longer you’re exposed to them, the sooner the UV filters stop working. So you will need to reapply your sunscreen more frequently – reapplying every two hours shouldn’t be overlooked. 

For more information on sunscreen chemicals:

Vitamin D and Sunscreen 

I’ve recently started tracking my precise vitamin D exposure/absorption via the App D Minder.
What you need to keep in mind is just because the sun is shining, does NOT mean you’re absorbing or getting vitamin D. Your location, altitude, the angle of the sun in the sky, etc all effect how much actual vitamin D you’re getting. And if you’re wearing sunscreen, you’re practically blocking the benefit of vitamin D. Of course, always practice safe sun exposure without sunscreen but I always allow myself and my son time in the sun prior to applying sunscreen for this reason.

More on Vitamin D via @documentinghope 

“In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that infants under 12 months require 400 International Units (IU) per day and older children and adolescents require 600 IU per day.

The Vitamin D Council says that “children require 1,000 IU / 25 lbs body weight when they are unable to receive adequate sun exposure in order to reach optimal levels.”

The ideal amount of vitamin D depends upon various factors; those with chronic and autoimmune conditions could require higher levels.

While the typical lab test for vitamin D says that 30 ng/dL is a “normal” level, “normal” is not the same as “optimal”. See our full blog post in our bio for more information on testing.

Remember that U.S. RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) levels are devised to prevent diseases of deficiency, which is not the same thing as promoting optimal health.

In fact, Sherry Rogers, MD stated in the September 2016 edition of her “Total Wellness” newsletter that vitamin D levels of 80-100 ng/dL are needed for optimal health.”

For our full article on Vitamin D with included sources,  visit and search: Vitamin D.

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