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How to Choose an Effective & Non-Toxic Sunscreen

August 28th, 2015


In last week’s blog we discussed what you can EAT or supplement with to protect yourself from sun damage. We also mentioned other natural sun-protection strategies that we will review at the end of this blog post. It’s important to not rely on one strategy, but to incorporate many of them.

Today we are going to discuss how to choose a non-toxic sunscreen and why it’s important that you do.

Before we dive into this I do want to mention one thing:

The sun is our best source of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is responsible for over 3,000 chemical processes in our bodies and is VERY important for optimal functioning of the immune system, cardiovascular system, bone health, and overall disease prevention…including melanoma and other cancers. The best way to get adequate amounts of vitamin D is from the sun. You can also get it through supplementation and small amounts in food.

Vitamin D is cancer preventative!

Complete avoidance of the sun by using sunscreen all the time or staying indoors may actually cause adverse health effects by blocking vitamin D. For most people…It’s good to allow your body to get small doses of the sun without sunscreen.

However…there are instances when you are going to be in the sun for prolonged periods of time and you do need to protect your body from sun burn and damage.


So… let’s dive into how to choose a safe and effective sunscreen.

There are all kinds of potentially TOXIC chemicals lurking in your sunscreen. Your skin in the largest organ in your body and what you put on it makes its way into your body and can greatly impact your health.

Many of the chemicals found in sunscreens are known allergens, hormone disruptors and cancer-causing agents.

If you are trying to avoid skin cancer…why would you ever knowingly put cancer-causing chemicals all over your body?

Doesn’t make sense, right?

This is why it’s important to pay attention to this information and learn to choose a sunscreen that protects you from the sun WITHOUT all the toxic chemicals.


Here is what to look for when choosing a sunscreen:

1) Choose a sunscreen with non-nano zinc oxide as the active ingredient.

Zinc oxide, compared to other active ingredients, provides much less chemical toxicity while offering a good balance of UVA and UVA protection. The EWG recommends sunscreens with zinc oxide as the active ingredient because it is stable in sunlight and can provide greater protection from UVA rays than titanium oxide or any other sunscreen chemicals.

Chris Kresser, a well-known functional medicine practitioner, recommends using a non-nano zinc oxide if possible, because the particles are not large enough to be absorbed into the skin. It is unclear whether nanoparticles are damaging to human cells, so he suggests getting a sunscreen without nanoparticles if possible. “Non-nano particles” is something you can look for on the label or bottle when purchasing a sunscreen.


2) Avoid toxic chemicals and long, hard-to-pronounce lists of ingredients.

Most sunscreens use certain chemicals as active ingredients for sun protection, versus minerals like zinc oxide. These chemicals are generally more toxic.

The following are chemicals rates by the EWG as having high to moderate toxicity concerns: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and homosalate.

Oxybenzone ranked the highest in terms of toxicity and has estrogenic properties, causes hormone disruption, potential organ toxicity, has been linked to endometriosis and is a skin allergen.


3) Choose a sunscreen with a 30-50 SPF.

SPF stands the “Sun Protection Factor”. The SPF rating is mostly addressing the sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB rays, which are the rays that primarily cause the skin to burn and are linked to non-melanoma skin cancers. The SPF rating has much less to do with it’s ability to block UVA rays, which are possibly more serious and more subtle. According to the Environmental Working Group, UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and are most responsible for free radical damage, which can cause cancer and accelerated aging.

Just because a sunscreen has a high SPF doesn’t mean it is offering better or more protection, which can be very misleading. You want a sunscreen that offers both UVB and UVA protection.

A high SPF sunscreen typically requires higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals that have hormone disrupting and allergenic properties.

A high SPF often creates a false sense of security. Many people think they can stay out in the sun a longer amount of time when using high SPF sunscreens and end up getting more damage from both UVB and UVA rays.


Let’s look at two different sunscreens so you can see the difference and get an idea of how to choose the safest and most effective option. I pulled these two examples from the Environmental Working Group’s Skin-Deep cosmetic database.

Option #1:

Neutrogena Age Shield Face Sunscreen, SPF 70

According to EWG, this sunscreen is a “BAD source of skin protection”, “provides MODERATE UVA protection and a MODERATE balance of UVA protection in relation to the SPF” and poses a “HIGH health concern” with a 7 out of 10 health hazard rating. The higher the rating the more toxic and the more health hazards it possesses.


Ingredients from label:

Active Ingredients: Avobenzone 3%, Homosalate 15%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 2.8%, Oxybenzone 6%. Inactive Ingredients: Water, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Silica, Diethylhexyl 2,6-Naphthalate, Beeswax, Caprylyl Methicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, Ethylhexylglycerine, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Sodium Polyacrylate, Caprylyl Glycol, Acrylates/C12-22 Alkyl Methacrylate Copolymer, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Dimethicone, Xanthan Gum, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Disodium EDTA, Tanacetum Parthenium (Feverfew) Leaf/Flower/Stem Juice, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, BHT, Trideceth-6, Tocopherol, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide, Methylisothiazolinone, Fragrance


What do you see?

  • High SPF (>50)
  • Multiple chemical filters as active ingredients including the most toxic: oxybenzone.
  • A long list of inactive chemical ingredients, some of which have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, neurotoxicity and organ toxicity


Option #2:

Just Skin Food Natural And Organic Sunscreen, SPF 30

According to the EWG this product is a “TOP choice for sun protection”, has “EXCELLENT UVA protection and an EXCELLENT balance of UVA protection in relation to the SPF” and “poses a LOW health concern” with a rating of 1 out of 10 health hazard rating.


Ingredients from label:

Active ingredient: (35%) non-nano zinc oxide. Other ingredients: OG coconut oil, OG raw unrefined shea butter, OG mango butter, and OG cocoa butter, local beeswax, and non-gmo vitamin E. (OG=organic)


What do you see?

  • SPF is below 50
  • Non-nano zinc oxide is the active ingredient for sun protection.
  • There are no other toxic chemicals. All other ingredients are natural, easily recognizable substances. (Plus…they are all organic which is a huge bonus in my book!)


You are much better off using Option #2 in conjunction with other skin protection strategies to protect your skin AND your health long-term. 

If you are wondering if your current sunscreen is a safe and effective option use the 3 points mentioned in this blog post. Furthermore, pull up the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to see how your sunscreen measures up. You can also use EWG’s 2015 Guide to Sunscreens to find brands of sunscreens that are safe and non-toxic. Look for sunscreen options in the 0-3 “LOW” hazard category. I use the EWG site to find safe, non-toxic sunscreen, as well as other cosmetics and personal care products. It’s AWESOME!!

Also keep in mind that you will likely have to reapply these natural sunscreens every couple of hours for them to be effective. And remember…don’t rely on sunscreen alone to protect yourself from being in the sun all day. Use the strategies below!


Reminder of other skin protection strategies:

  • Don’t get burned
  • Wear protective clothing/gear (hats, long sleeves, sunglasses) for prolonged sun exposure
  • Bring or seek out shade for long periods of time outdoors
  • Apply non-toxic, chemical-free, 30-50 SPF sunscreen frequently throughout the day when exposed to sun for prolonged periods.
  • Eat a diet rich in Carotenoids, Vitamins E & C and polyphenols to protect your sun from the inside out! Go HERE to read last week’s blog discussing this topic.
  • But…don’t forget to expose your skin to the sun for short periods of time without sunscreen to soak up the vitamin D.


Hope you found this information helpful!

If you have tried and loved brands of sunscreen that fit this criteria or are rated “LOW” on the EWG website, please leave in the comments section to share with us all!

Blessings in health!

Brenda Walding, DPT, FDN




How to Choose an Effective & Non-Toxic Sunscreen
Article Name
How to Choose an Effective & Non-Toxic Sunscreen
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is responsible for over 3,000 chemical processes in our bodies and is VERY important for optimal functioning of the immune system, cardiovascular system, bone health, and overall disease prevention… including melanoma and other cancers.

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