Sunscreen 101

Memorial Day is here and summer is around the corner.   With plenty of long, sunny days ahead, it’s time to think about sunscreen.  Wearing sunscreen has numerous benefits, such as protecting against skin cancer and premature aging.  Some of the ingredients in sunscreen, however, may actually be harmful to your health.  Here are some tips to steer you in the right direction.        

Harmful ingredients to avoid:

  • Oxybenzone:  one of the most problematic ingredients found in most sunscreens.   This chemical seeps into the blood stream and can potentially mimic the hormone estrogen in the body.  It has also been associated with endometriosis in women.  Among common chemical sunscreen ingredients, oxybenzone was also found to be most likely associated with allergic reactions triggered by sun exposure!  
  • Octinoxate (oxtylmethoxycinnamate) - This chemical has also been found to have hormone-like activity and produced thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies.  
  • Retinyl Palmitate:  A study by US government scientists suggests that retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may speed development of skin tumors and lesions when applies to the skin in the presence of sunlight.  
  • Fragrance and parabens:  most conventional sunscreens contain a slew of these potentially cancer-causing chemicals and preservatives.  Plain and simple, please avoid.   

What to Choose:

  •  Ingredients:
    • Zinc oxide and titanium oxide.  These are mineral sunscreens that provide a physical barrier, meaning they sit on top of the skin’s surface and reflect light.  Badger, Aubrey organics, and goddess garden are a few brands with healthy ingredients
  • UVA and UVB protection:  UVB rays cause sunburn.  UVA rays cause wrinkles and skin cancer.   Choose a sunscreen that protects against both.
  •  SPF 15-50:  A higher SPF isn’t always better.  Most people assume that you would get double the protection from an SPF 50 to SPF 100, but that’s not the case.  SPF 50 blocks 98% of rays while SPF 100 blocks 99%.  For most people an SPF of 30 is plenty sufficient when applied properly.


  • Apply sunscreen liberally, at least 20 minutes before sun exposure.  It takes that long for sunscreen to absorb into your skin.  Use a shot-glass sized amount (2 tablespoons) to cover all exposed areas.  
  • Reapply every 2 hours, especially after swimming or sweating.
  •  If you do get burned, cucumber, calendula, and aloe are all soothing to the skin.  

Important note:  
While sunscreen protects against skin aging and cancer, 15-minutes of “bare” skin exposure daily is important for vitamin D production.    A diet high in antioxidants helps boost your skin’s internal sun resistance and protect against UV skin damage.  In general, the more antioxidants in your body, the longer you can stay in the sun without burning.  Fruits, vegetables, and superfoods contain some of the highest amounts of antioxidants.  You can also use supplements as well.  

Happy almost summer!