May 21


Is Sunscreen Safe?

By Cassie

May 21, 2019

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Woohoo!!! Welcome to summer!!! It definitely felt like it was never going to come in the midwest. We were getting snow in late April (which is unheard of in SE Michigan, despite the rumors). It seems like as soon as spring started peaking around the corner there was yet another sunscreen scandal. Well, maybe not a scandal but that’s what it seemed like. Through the last few years there has been so much sunscreen drama that it’s hard to keep track. This time the news is that there are chemicals in sunscreen that are absorbed and build up in your blood. So, what’s the deal? Is sunscreen safe?

Sunscreen History

Before we get into that though let’s do a quick review of sunscreen’s checkered past. Sunscreen was invented in 1938 and in this case the old adage holds true. Necessity is the mother of invention. If you’re mountain climbing and get a heck of a sunburn you might decide that sunscreen would be a great idea. Since then it has been both beloved and distrusted.

The use of sunscreen in the US didn’t become really popular until the 80’s. I remember fishing with my dad and laying on the beach covered in baby oil trying to get that coveted deep tan. I think this is a memory every Gen Xer has. Sometime in the 80’s though The American Cancer Association, Dermatologists, Pediatricians, and General Practitioners (and others) all started recommending the use of sunscreen to prevent skin cancer.

This seems pretty simple. Use sunscreen and avoid skin cancer. It seems that aside from vanity there is no reason not to use sunscreen. The problem is that reasons keep arising!

Vitamin D

First was the great debate regarding Vitamin D. We can get vitamin D through sun exposure, diet or supplementing. Many people have a vitamin D deficiency and it is often worse in the winter. This leads people to believe that sun exposure is the only way to get vitamin D

How do we get vitamin D from sun exposure?

In order to make vitamin D from sun exposure the body needs UVB rays. They interact with a protein in the skin and it is converted to D3. UVB rays cause burning. Preventing sunburn has always been the predominant focus of sunscreen. It blocks most of the UVB rays.

Is sun exposure necessary to prevent vitamin D deficiency?

About 10 years ago I started hearing people talking about the dangers of using sunscreen because of vitamin D deficiency. Here’s the thing though, in healthy individuals studies have NEVER found that everyday use of sunscreen leads to vitamin D insufficiency.

There was a recent study that showed that people who have diseases that affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food have different outcomes. Diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, chronic kidney disease and diabetes effect the body’s ability to get vitamin D from food sources. An estimated 1 million people globally are effected by vitamin D deficiency related to these types of diseases. In that case it is recommended that you go outside for 5 – 30 min a day twice a week without sunscreen. If you don’t have a disease that effects vitamin absorption the risk of skin cancer, premature aging and DNA damage outweighs the risk of vitamin D deficiency. Try to choose foods that are high in vitamin D or supplement D3 rather than exposing yourself to harmful UVB rays.

Environmental Concerns

Several years ago it was discovered that 2 of the common active ingredients in sunscreen, oxybenzone and octinoxate were causing environmental damage. These two chemicals which are used to convert the sun’s UVB rays into heat on the skin are causing damage to coral reefs. They enter the ocean either through swimming or through water sanitation facilities. These chemicals have the opposite effect on coral. They make coral more susceptible to the sun’s rays. This causes bleaching. Bleaching makes coral unable to reproduce, damages it’s DNA and weakens it. This is causing extensive damage and loss of coral reefs which are of vital importance to the ocean’s ecosystem.

In May of 2018 the state of Hawaii passed a bill prohibiting the sale or distribution of sunscreens containing these chemicals. If the bill is signed into law it will take effect in Jan 2021. Law or no law, it is of great importance to avoid sunscreens with these environmentally damaging chemicals. That doesn’t mean you have to go sunscreen free, just make an educated choice about the products you use.


About a year ago there was a huge trend in creating everything all natural. People scoured the internet to find deoderant recipes (yay) and sun-screen recipes (not so yay). The concern about artificial and potentially harmful chemicals was a driving force here. The only problem is that most of the sunscreen recipes didn’t work at all.

Some made claims about their SPF, UVA and UVB protection. None of these claims can be validated. Almost all of the recipes didn’t contain a single active ingredient. Many people (including children) went unprotected and ended up with burns. Sunburn in children significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. Additionally every sunburn you get increases your risk of skin cancer. This really isn’t something to play around with and weekend warrior!


The newest sunscreen scandal broke earlier this year. It was discovered that common sunscreen ingredients avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene are absorbed and build up in the bloodstream. No one is really sure what this means. The FDA approved these ingredients and knew that they would be absorbed. But no one expected that they would accumulate or the amounts that they would find present in people’s blood stream. There is no indication as to whether this is dangerous or not. More studies need to be done. It is expected that there will be toxicology studies done related to the possible impact on developmental and reproductive health. In addition, studies are expected concerning cancer related health issues. Until then, what are we to do???

Mineral Sunscreens

There are many sunscreen options that use mineral barriors instead of chemicals. You want to find a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These are not absorbed into your skin and remain stable when exposed to UV rays (seriously, why would sunscreen not be stable when exposed to sun, DUH!) I have researched several different sunscreens using EWG and a few other resources and have listed some below.


These are adult sunscreens that are all reef safe, cruelty free, fragrance free & paraben free :

If you have particularly sensitive skin, are acne prone, have rosacea or hyper pigmentation you might want a specialty sunscreen for your face. You want one that is oil free and contains ingredients like Niacinamide (B3) and Hyaluronic acid. The #1 dermatologist recommended professional brand is EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen SPF 46. It is a bit more pricey but remember that it is only for your face so it should last quite a while. This product is cruelty free and not sold in mainland china. However where required by law some of their other products may be tested on animals. The FDA for example requires testing on animals for medical devices.

Baby & Kids

These sunscreens are also reef safe, cruelty free, fragrance free & paraben free. In addition I checked reviews to make sure all are easy to apply. Having 5 kids, I know how difficult it can be to apply a thick pasty sunscreen to a squirming toddler or eager kid.

Other ways to protect yourself

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Optimally sunscreen would be your last resort for sun protection. The methods you should utilize first are, sunglasses, hats, clothing, shade, and avoiding mid day sun. These are all particularly important for children. Keep in mind though that you can get sunburned through most clothes.

When in doubt, always, ALWAYS uses sunscreen. Despite the many debates, drama and scandle surrounding sunscreen the research still shows that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Just make an educated choice!

I know I’m looking forward to summer and can’t wait for long lazy days on the golf course or beach. Getting out in the great outdoors is so important to your health so make sure you get out there this summer!

Tell me all about your favorite summer activities and traditions. Maybe we can inspire each other to come up with some new fun ways to enjoy the season!

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