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Is There Such a Thing as “Safe” Sunscreen?


I am so excited about today’s post.  Arabelle Minard of Belle Organics is here to dispell any myths about “safe” sunscreen.

About the Author
Arabelle is owner/esthetician of Belle Organic Skin Care, located in Arnold, MD. Arabelle grew up in Colorado, where there is a focus on healthy, holistic living. Coupled with her knowledge of alternative healthcare and holistic practices, Arabelle’s philosophy in life has always been about preventing problems rather than treating symptoms.
You can contact Arabelle at

Is There Such a Thing as “Safe” Sunscreen?

sunscreen image

Being a licensed esthetician who is holistically driven, I thought I would share my thoughts about “safe” sunscreen…but does it really exist? The answer is yes, but you have to know the facts first (and there are many).

As any good consumer would do, I started researching all of the information that is out there about sunscreens. Wow! There is a lot of information! Rather than bore you with everything I found, I decided to create a concise sort of “go-to” manual for you to refer to when shopping for your next sunscreen.

A word about the FDA and the new sunscreen regulations
First of all, many consumers incorrectly believe that the FDA protects us from everything that is considered “bad” in a product. This is simply not true! Consumers must educate themselves about hazardous ingredients, and just as you read your food labels, read your product ingredient labels!

For the first time in more than 30 years, the FDA revamped their sunscreen regulations. The changes will not take effect for another year, but here is what you can expect from the new regulations:

• Only products that pass the FDA’s test for protection against both UVA (premature aging rays) and UVB (sunburn culprits) will be labeled “Broad Spectrum”. Both types of rays contribute to skin cancer, although UVA rays comprise 95 – 97% of the UV radiation that gets through our atmosphere.

• Sunscreens above SPF50 will not be allowed, as there is no sufficient data to show protection above SPF50 to beneficial.

• Labels cannot claim to be waterproof or sweatproof; only water resistant.

The Sun: Friend or Foe

getty rm photo of young woman sunbathing

The answer is both. Our body gets many beneficial nutrients from the sun, such as Vitamin D. However, overexposure to the sun can lead to premature aging and skin cancer. There are over two million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year!

Types of Sunscreen and What Makes Them Hazardous

There are two basic types of sunscreen: mineral and non-mineral. Some sunscreens combine both.

Non-mineral sunscreens (such as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate) penetrate the skin, are potentially disruptive to hormones, can be extremely allergenic, and may even break down in sunlight and thus accelerate the development of skin tumors.

Mineral sunscreens
(such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) sit on the surface of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays away from the body. They do not break down in sunlight, are not usually absorbed into the body, are non-allergenic, and are more effective at blocking UVA rays than non-minerals.

The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) recently released sunscreen guide reveals that 60% of sunscreens in the United States are inadequate at protecting against UVA radiation. The guide reviewed 292 brands and 1,700 products, and is a wonderful reference in finding low-hazard sunscreens.

Sunscreen and the Purist

Many purists contend that sunburns are related to a lack of B vitamins, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids. This may be true, however the sad fact is that most of us don’t have an adequate diet to sustain the levels needed to fight sunburn. Also, antibiotics or other prescription medications may alter an otherwise healthy diet and effect how your body responds to sun exposure. So while there is merit to limited sun exposure (think 15 – 20 minutes per day, which adds up fast), a safe sunscreen is needed to help protect you at all other times.


• The safest and most effective minerals in the USA are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (although try to avoid those processed into nanoparticles)

• The two most hazardous chemicals to avoid are oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (sometimes listed as vitamin A)

• Pick creams and lotions over sprays and powders

• Try to physically block the sun with protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats

• Minimize sun exposure from 10:00 to 4:00 when rays are strongest

• Reapply sunscreens at least every two hours, or after getting wet or sweaty

• There are so many unsafe chemicals added to sunscreens. It is hard to know them all: the EWG guide is a great resource.

• Remember that a limited amount of un-filtered sun exposure (15 – 20 minutes) is actually good for you! However, it adds up quickly…driving in the car, or walking to/from the car to the store are good examples.

Also keep in mind that other products can leech chemicals into your body that can cause unpleasant reactions like cancer. This goes for shampoo and conditioner, face and body lotion, makeup and makeup removers.


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2 Responses to Is There Such a Thing as “Safe” Sunscreen?

Liz Longacre

WOW, I did not know any of this!! I’ll need this when I go shopping cause I’ll never remember the chemical names! I just found out I’m deficient in Vitamin D, like the rest of the world apparently, and to be honestly, I hardly ever put on sunscreen, I know that’s bad. Thanks for this info!!

Arabelle Minard-Le

Hi Liz,

I’m glad you learned something from this post! Just remember that Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are the natural sunscreens. Anything else that you can’t pronounce is BAD! It’s pretty much like when you look at your food labels…if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not good for you (with the exception of the Latin names for herbs and flowers). Also, the fewer the ingredients in a product, the better.
Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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