As we approach summertime with all its “fun in the sun,” you might wonder about using sunscreen and how to find a safe one. It’s true. Most sunscreens on the market today are full of toxic ingredients, which get absorbed into the bloodstream. These products are bad for us and bad for the environment. However, there are good options!

This article will reveal some of the hidden dangers of sunblock and sunscreen products. We’ll also guiding you in finding a “Wellness Way approved” sunscreen and share other ideas on keeping it healthy in the sunshine!

Do We Really Want to Block the Sun?

Bill Gates has resolved to block the sun to combat global warming, but is the sun the enemy of life on earth? No! The sun is essential to the life and health of all plants and animals on the earth. That goes for humans, too! Plants need the sun to create energy, and they use the process of photosynthesis to do so. We humans need the sun for vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D is necessary for healthy mitochondria, the energy-producers of our cells.

Sunshine = energy source.

Vitamin D: This vitamin/hormone precursor is critical for many different organs and processes in the body, including the gut microbiome, brain neurotransmitters, the immune system (protecting us against cancer), and more.

Circadian Rhythm: We need the blue light from the sun to help set our circadian rhythm each day. The sun is a “zeitgeber” – a time-giver, that helps our bodies know when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime. It helps regulate our hormone levels, including morning cortisol and evening melatonin release. Watch Doc’s short video on circadian rhythm here.

Infrared: Infrared light from the sun is very healing to the body. Research has found it to be especially protective of the brain and nervous system.

With all these benefits, it’s clear we shouldn’t be blocking out the sun all day. Sun avoidance increases the risk of disease. Then we slather on traditional commercial sunscreens and apply all kinds of toxins directly to our skin. There’s a better way!

What to Look for in a Sunscreen

As you’re scanning the shelves, look for a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or more. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. If you multiply the SPF times 10, you get the number of minutes you can roughly stay in the sun before its effectiveness wears off. An SPF of 30 gives you about 5 hours to be out in the sun before reapplying.

Go for a lotion, not a spray. Mineral sunscreens tend to come in lotion form, and you want to opt for mineral sunscreen rather than a chemical one. Minerals are not absorbed into the skin as easily as chemicals are.

Two minerals that work well are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are not absorbed, but reflect the ultraviolet (UV) radiation sun, both UVA and UVB. UVA is more penetrating, whereas UVB stays more on the surface.

Toxins in Traditional Sunscreens

Unfortunately, most well-known sunscreens on the market are full of dangerous toxins. The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) keeps tabs on sunscreen chemicals and their safety. Here are some of the chemicals to avoid, along with EWG’s rating of 0-10, with 10 being the most hazardous to your health:

Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3)

One of the most toxic chemicals in sunscreen today, this compound is a hormone disruptor, which can cause imbalances in reproductive and thyroid hormones. Some people also have immune responses to it, causing an itch or rash. This compound can react with chlorine in swimming pools to create even more toxic compounds. Authorities are now banning it from use because it has been causing damage to coral reefs.

EWG Hazard score: 8

Retinyl palmitate (synthetic Vitamin A)

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it’s easily absorbed through our skin and can be toxic to reproductive organs. Retinyl palmitate is also synthetic. Synthetic versions of vitamins do not have the same effects as natural ones.

When applied to the skin, retinyl palmitate may increase your risk of skin cancer. Not good. It completely defeats the purpose of wearing sunscreen in the first place.

EWG Hazard score: 9

Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate or OMC)

This is another hormone disruptor, which can cause imbalances in thyroid hormones. Some people also have immune responses to it.

EWG Hazard score: 5

Homosalate

Another toxin, this ingredient may mess with your reproductive hormones. It’s toxic to cells and genes and may bioaccumulate in your body.

EWG Hazard score: 2-4 depending on how it’s used.

Other ingredients to avoid:

Parabens, parfum (or other synthetic “fragrances”), and other ingredients you cannot pronounce or do not recognize.

Approved Sunscreen Ingredients

Zinc oxide

Zinc oxide is one of the original sunscreen ingredients. It’s been used for thousands of years, as it was mentioned in an Indian medical text from 500 BC. It’s generally safe, but some people have had allergies or sensitivities to it. It can irritate the lungs when used in aerosol form, so, be sure to opt for a cream.

EWG Hazard score: 1-3, depending on how it’s used.

Titanium dioxide

Titanium dioxide is also a safe sunscreen ingredient. However, like zinc oxide, it can be irritating to the lungs. So, use a cream rather than a spray.

EWG Hazard score: 1-3, depending on how it’s used.

Avobenzone

Avobenzone is also an overall safe sunscreen ingredient. However, it can sometimes be contaminated with more toxic ingredients. Read more about it here.

EWG Hazard score: 1-2, depending on how it’s used.

Mexoryl SX

This isn’t a common ingredient in sunscreen products, but occasionally you’ll see it. So far, it seems to be safe.

EWG Hazard score: 1-2, depending on how it’s used.

Octisalate

This is an “okay” sunscreen ingredient with a slightly higher hazard score. It’s generally considered safe, but some people have allergies/sensitivities to it.

EWG Hazard score: 1-3, depending on how it’s used.

Octocrylene

This is also an “okay” sunscreen ingredient with a slightly higher hazard score. It’s overall safe, but some people have allergies/sensitivities to it. It may also bioaccumulate in the body, causing issues over the long term.

EWG Hazard score: 2-3, depending on how it’s used.

Dr. Flynn’s Favorite Sunscreen Brands

365 Everyday Value Mineral Sunscreen

This one comes from Whole Foods Market. It’s 80% organic ingredients, broad-spectrum SPF 30 (UVA and UVA protection), and free of octinoxate, homosalate, oxybenzone, PABA, and nano-minerals.

EWG gives it a rating of 1, which is the best.

Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 18.75%; Organic Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Organic Beeswax, Organic Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Tocopherol.

Badger Baby Active Sunscreen

This one is easier to find in stores. It’s 98% organic, broad-spectrum SPF 30, non-nano, non-GMO, biodegradable, and has chamomile and calendula herbs. It works for adults, too!

EWG gives it a rating of 1.

Active Ingredients: Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Cera Alba (Beeswax), Tocopherol (Sunflower Vitamin E), Anthemis Nobilis (Roman Chamomile) Flower Oil, Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Flower Extract, Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea buckthorn) Fruit Extract.

Adorable Baby Sunscreen

This sunscreen isn’t as common but it’s very gentle (made for babies). It’s 100% natural (not necessarily organic), broad-spectrum SPF 30, non-nano, and yes, works for adults!

Active Ingredients: Uncoated Non-Nano Zinc Oxide 24.7%, Inactive Ingredients: Grapeseed Oil, Organic Sunflower Oil, Caprylic/ capric triglycerides (from Coconut Oil), Organic Beeswax, Organic Cocoa Butter (Fair Trade), Organic Shea Butter, Stearic Acid (from Palm Oil), Purified Water

EWG gives it a rating of 1.

See this article for favorites within The Wellness Way network of clinics. You can also use EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database to check ratings for sunscreens you’re considering purchasing.

Other Options for Staying Healthy in The Sun

You don’t need to go through tubs of sunscreen to protect your skin. After all, the skin needs to breathe, and even natural oils create a barrier to not only the sunshine but the fresh air. Here are some other ideas for shielding excess sun:

Wear a Hat and/or Coverup

This is the oldest, most practical way to limit sun exposure. It’s quick and easy to grab a hat or visor as you head out to the garden or beach. Bringing a coverup for your time on the sand is also a great way to naturally screen the sunlight on your skin.

Use a Sunshade (Or a Tree!)

Another idea is to bring a sunshade, umbrella, or screen tent with you to the beach. That allows you to take a break from the sunshine and sip a cold beverage or eat a healthy snack. Of course, you can always find a nearby tree for a picnic lunch under a natural canopy!

Try Almond Oil or Coconut Oil

For a one-ingredient, all-natural sunscreen, try applying some natural oils. There are several that have some level of natural SPF, including almond oil, coconut oil, raspberry seed oil, carrot seed oil, and shea butter. You can also add zinc oxide to it for extra SPF.

Supplement with Fern Extract

An exciting new concept for sunscreen is to consume it in the form of an extract from a fern, polypodium leucotomos. Scientists have discovered polypodium leucotomos extract (PLE) can provide an internal source of sun protection. Heliocare in the United States or Fernblock outside the U.S. has research behind it, and is effective for reducing sunburn and sun damage and protecting the skin.

Do You Sunburn Easily?

If you sunburn extremely easily, it might be due to elevated levels of inflammation throughout your body. Many different factors can cause chronic inflammation. That’s why we recommend doing comprehensive testing to see whether your high inflammation levels are due to food allergies, hormone imbalance, gut infections, or other things.

When you remove the things causing internal inflammation, your body is much more resistant to external inflammation from sun exposure.

Resources:

  1. A Bill Gates Venture Aims To Spray Dust Into The Atmosphere To Block The Sun. What Could Go Wrong? (forbes.com)
  2. Vitamin D Receptor Is Necessary for Mitochondrial Function and Cell Health – PMC (nih.gov)
  3. Vitamin D deficiency changes the intestinal microbiome reducing B vitamin production in the gut. The resulting lack of pantothenic acid adversely affects the immune system, producing a “pro-inflammatory” state associated with atherosclerosis and autoimmunity – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Low vitamin D status is associated with more depressive symptoms in Dutch older adults – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Vitamin D: Classic and Novel Actions – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Entrainment of the human circadian clock – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Biological effects and medical applications of infrared radiation – PMC (nih.gov)
  8. Support for the Safe Use of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticle Sunscreens: Lack of Skin Penetration or Cellular Toxicity after Repeated Application in Volunteers – PubMed (nih.gov)
  9. Environmental Working Group – Know your choices | Environmental Working Group (ewg.org)
  10. Dermatological and environmental toxicological impact of the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone/benzophenone-3 – PubMed (nih.gov)
  11. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands | SpringerLink
  12. EWG Skin Deep® | What is RETINYL PALMITATE (VITAMIN A PALMITATE)
  13. Effects of a 5-day treatment with the UV-filter octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC) on the function of the hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid function in rats – PubMed (nih.gov)
  14. EWG Skin Deep® | What is HOMOSALATE
  15. Assessment of the cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of homosalate in MCF-7 – PubMed (nih.gov)
  16. Polypodium Leucotomos Extract (PLE): New Study Gives Evidence-based Insight into “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – PMC (nih.gov)

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