Is your sunscreen safe?


When the sun comes out in Portland, we go outside. We have to, because we never know when the sun is going to disappear again. And this summer, it has been much sunnier and much hotter than usual! So my family has been out in the sun every day, and it makes us think about sun protection.

Because I have children, I always think about safety, and with sunscreens it turns out there are some not-so-safe ingredients. Here's some ideas for what to look out for:

Top Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients

Oxybenzone - A widespread chemical sunblock that absorbs UV light. It is easily absorbed by the skin and acts like estrogen in the body, disrupting your hormone system. Also, causes relatively high rates of skin allergy.

Octinoxate - Easily absorbed by the skin, this chemical sunblock disrupts thyroid hormone function and the reproductive system.

Retinyl Palmitate – A form of Vitamin A, this chemical is used in a large number of sunscreens, SPF moisturizers and lip balms because it is believed to slow skin aging. But, when exposed to sunlight, it has been shown to speed the development of cancerous cells.

Safer Alternatives

Look to the EWG's 2015 Sunscreen Guide for ratings on dozens of brands of sunscreens, and more information on ingredients. Each year I try out several of their top rated sunscreens. My current favorites for low toxicity, ease of use, feel on the skin and ability to get them on my squirming children are:

Burnout Kids and babyganics pure mineral sunscreen stick

Other Ideas for Safe Sun Protection

Please don't forget that avoiding too much sun is better than relying on a high SPF to do the job for you. A lot of times these high SPFs lure us into a false sense of security and we end up getting way too much sun, because they simply don't work at as high of a level as they are rated.

That being said, if you aren't in the sun for too long, especially if it's not in the middle of the day, then you are probably fine skipping the sunscreen altogether.  This, of course, varies a lot from person to person how their skin responds to the sun!

Also, don't forget that you can use UPF clothing, which is much more effective than sunscreen. In fact any clothing will give you better sun protection than sunscreens that wash off and wear off. 

Finally, astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant in the carotenoid family, can help to make your skin less prone to sunburns. It's not rated for an SPF factor, but it's nice to have a little bit of extra help in the form of a natural plant compound that protects plants from the sun. 

Enjoy the sun this summer!

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