On Sunscreen

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I recently had a visit with my primary care physician to follow up on my various and sundry medical and health issues (so far, so good!  I’m off Nexium for my tummy troubles AND, for the time being, Synthroid for my slightly under active thyroid.  Only time will tell if I can remain Synthroid-free or not.  I’m supposed to develop a taste for seaweed.  I have never even touched sushi so I have some uncharted territory to explore, but I’m willing to do it.)

And no, that has nothing to do with sunscreen, but I’m glad you asked.

At said appointment, my doctor brought up the topic of sunscreen.  As I’ve mentioned before, she is an MD but she takes a holistic approach to health care (this should NOT be a novelty, but unfortunately it is.)  She advised me to use sunscreen, but to allow myself (and the kids) about 15 minutes of full mid-day summer sun on at least 50% of the body before applying sunscreen.

The theory is that we as a culture have gone overboard with the sunscreen, and our rising rates of melanoma may have something to do with our lack of vitamin D.  She urged me not to burn, of course, but not to avoid the sun altogether.

I was not hard to convince, I’ve always allowed myself and my kids to tan, mainly because I like a tan and because it seemed nonsensical to me that any and all sun could be bad.  I’m thrilled to learn that my instincts may actually be proven to hold some truth.

372As far as what sunscreen to use, as usual nothing’s simple.  The ones that are typically sold at the drugstore are full of harmful chemicals, according to some, anyway.  My doctor advised me to use zinc oxide, and she recommended the Badger brand, which, ironically I had already picked up at my health food store because I read about it last summer and thought it sounded safer than the conventional stuff.

I’ve been surfing the web, trying to find articles to substantiate what my doctor told me, and it seems that the mainstream medical community still maintain that sunscreens containing chemicals such as oxybenzone and avobenzone are safe.  This article in the New York Times is a bit dated, but it is a good summary of the issues.

Everything I find warning of the dangers of oxybenzone and promoting the benefits of barrier-type sunscreens seem to stem from a report from the Environmental Working Group.

This article on HealthyChild.com entitled Sunburn Prevention: Are Sunscreens Safe? is an interesting read.  I’m not sure how the Kabana sunscreen she recommends compares to Badger.  They both use zinc oxide, but evidently it matters how it is made.  Honestly, is NOTHING simple anymore?

At this point, I am going to go with the recommendation of my doctor, and I will continue to keep my eyes and ears open for new information.

Is sunscreen something you have researched?  What were your findings, and what are you using on your kids this summer?

UPDATE: Thanks to Marty, here is an excellent article by Dr. Axe outlining the sunscreen controversy: Sunscreen Does NOT Protect Against Cancer.


  1. says

    Of course living at the beach in Florida, sunscreen has ALWAYS been an issue. I mean you apply it directly and all over your skin, so whatevers in it is going right into your blood stream. Oy! I am still looking for a more natural sunscreen that works. Maybe I’ll give that brand a try.

  2. says

    We’ve used Earth’s Best for a few years, for these reasons. Ironically (or not!) it’s the first sunscreen that didn’t sting my eyes! And I’ve used sunscreen forever because I’m so pale I burn in about ten minutes in the sun.

    Why are you hoping to avoid Synthroid? I’ve been on it for ten years so I’m curious what your reasons are….

    • Jo-Lynne says

      Basically I didn’t have hypothyroid symptoms, I just had the numbers, so I went on synthroid. But I don’t like being on meds unless I absolutely need them, so I went off it to see what happened, and so far I feel fine. My doctor says we can “watch it” – meaning we will test my blood every 6 mos and I will gauge how I feel. If I start to feel sluggish or depressed, I will go back on meds, but I will opt for the more natural Armour thyroid.

      My TSH level is a bit high, but my T3 and T4 are normal, which my doc said implies that my body is working hard to keep them that way, and those are the numbers that really matter. So, we will see.

      This article is very interesting, by the way:

      • Yvonne says

        Interesting article. I was put on synthroid while going through infertility treatment. I have tried to come off of it a few times and had to go back on. I could not get out bed! I too, hate the idea of taking medication everyday for the rest of my life. I will have to talk to my doctor about using the natural for of the hormone.
        Now if I could only figure how to get preggo without the drugs.

  3. says

    I’m a redhead; I don’t tan. I do let myself lay out in the sunshine for a few minutes, sunscreen free a few times a week once it gets warm. (5 – 10 minutes or so) I have no desire to get burnt. (I always cover my face as I don’t enjoy a headache from squinting)

    There is nothing as mood lifting in the world as the sun, we’re programmed to need it.

    We use Blue Lizard Sunscreen, it’s also a Zinc Oxide based version, it was recommended by my doctor when everything else made my oldest (also a redhead) breakout. We put it on once before heading to the beach or pool and unless we are going to stay more than 90 minutes, I never reapply. (I hear the gasps now). He’s never gotten a burn and his skin is at least as sensitive as mine.

    I think the problem is that our culture doesn’t seem to understand moderation. Yes, wear sunscreen if you’re going to be out for a long time and yes, laying out for hours is bad for you.

    Maybe it will bite me in the butt later, but I my gut says a little sun is good,

  4. Michelle@Life with Three says

    I use Blue Lizard on my kids, too. Because of my oldest’s skin issues, I only put “natural” sunscreens on her and my other two (meaning zinc oxide or titanium oxide based).

    Ironically, however, the Blue Lizard makes me break out. After several days of use (even from just putting it on my kids’ skin without washing my hands after), my skin gets all bumpy. Not red, just bumpy. I guess I kind of end up looking like a lizard! I think I’m allergic to the zinc, which is why I’ve had to stick with the chemical sunscreens for myself. It’s hard to find a titanium dioxide only sunscreen. Most have zinc mixed in.

    The other nice thing about zinc and titanium sunscreens is that you’re protected as soon as it goes onto the skin, you don’t have to wait 20 minutes before going out in the sun. And, because both are considered a “physical barrier” they sit on top of the skin, instead of being absorbed into the skin like the chemical ones.

  5. says

    I use California Baby on myself and my daughter when we will be exposed to the sun for extended periods. I like the California Baby formula because it doesn’t sting my eyes or cause any other side effects and is as safe as any effective sunscreen can be.

  6. says

    We use Badger and are very happy with it. I refuse to use regular (i.e., non natural) sunscreens — it makes no sense to slather your and your kids skin with chemical laden products.

    • Jo-Lynne says

      I agree, but I must admit I am horribly inconsistent on this as I use plenty of beauty products that I’m sure are full of them. What makeup and skincare products do you use?

  7. DeAnn says

    I also switched last year to natural sunscreens. We tried blue lizard and pretty much every other more natural one I could find. They all seemed about the same to me but now I’m going to have to so some more research about why the way it’s manufactured makes a difference. Seems like sound advice to hang out in the sun for a few minutes before applying sunscreen. I never thought about the fact that sunscreen blocks Vitamin D absorption. I just don’t like to think about having to reign everyone in after 15 minutes at the pool or beach. :)

    This sounds weird, but since high school, if I spend too much time in the sun, my arms and legs break out in a horrible rash. I have to use lots of sunscreen in order to prevent this. Anyway, I know not everyone agrees with acupuncture but I have seen it do some amazing things! After a consultation, we realized that I’m also allergic to some sunscreens even natural ones. I was treated for that last year and broke out a lot less. This year, I’m simply going to be treated while sitting in the sun outside of the acupuncturist’s office. It sounds ridiculous, but if it works, then I care not!

    Thanks for the info!

    • Jo-Lynne says

      You know what, in the fall, when my suntan is wearing off, I get all itchy every time I get out of the shower. It’s awful, and it happens every year. I finally decided that’s what it is. I don’t know why, but it drives me nuts.

  8. Megan says

    I’ll have to try Badger. With all of my skin issues, I use 100+ on my face and hands every single day, year round. I put sunscreen on A religiously too. I don’t think that spending 15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen is good for everyone. I could never do it with the vitilago and a history of skin cancer. I won’t be doing that, nor will my kids.

    • Jo-Lynne says

      I can certainly understand with the vitilago.

      But I think her point about the skin cancer is, the vitamin D helps prevent skin cancer, so avoiding it altogether may actually be contributing to the skyrocketing skin cancer rates. I think in her opinion, it is the burning that is dangerous, not moderate sun exposure. But I realize that argument is highly debatable.

  9. says

    We have always used drugstore brands. My kids and I are very fair skinned, so I always use sunscreen when we’re swimming or I know we will be out for hours. But, I don’t apply it before sending them out to the backyard after school or before they play soccer or tee ball or whatever. Mainly because I am lazy and have a lot of kids. 😉 How does the cost of the brand you like compare to others? I hate that sunscreen is so expensive. And if we used the full ounce the experts recommend you apply each time, we would go through a bottle every time we went outside!

  10. says

    Great article! It’s so crazy to hear reports on the news about high SPF ratings, when really & truly that doesn’t even matter if the sunscreen is full of chemicals! It’s always been explained to me that the chemicals are basically “numbing” the top layer of your skin. So it’s giving you a false since of protection. We use use Mexitan or CosMedix, both w/ Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. Although I have used Badger before & like it as well.

  11. says

    I like the Burts Bees sunscreen, but if there is going to be a lot of sweating involved (like a soccer game down here in TX), I sometimes use the non-natural kind since it seems to perform better. I’ll have to look into the Badger brand and see if I can find some.

    Great post.

  12. says

    I’ve always just used the regular kind and I’ve never really thought about it until I read this post. But Michelle’s comment reminded me that last summer we went to the beach and Bud got the same type of rash all over after being out in the sun for a little while. At the time I thought it was something in the water (although the rest of us were fine), but now I’m wondering if he had a reaction to the sunscreen. I’m going to look and see if I can find a more natural one for him.

    I hardly ever remember to actually put it on me or the kids. Usually only if we are going swimming, to the beach or fishing. Then I make sure we are fully covered.

  13. Laurie says

    VERY interesting! We have a pool and love to be in it and around it all summer long. I’ve used just about all brands and mainly chose them based on price and smell – sorry I’m a child of the 70s that still loves the smell of Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic!! Thanks for bringing this subject to my attention! Just in time for opening the pool and buying new sunscreen for the season!

    Guess I need to check my self-tanning lotion for weird chemicals, too – ha!!

  14. Karen says

    Great timing! We are leaving for Disney in 20 days and all I have done is look for ‘safe’ sunscreen. I saw Blue Lizard – I might go back and grab that. I have never seen BurtBees but I use their skincare line so I will look for that. Thanks for the great suggestions.

    Try avoiding parabens…. my fav. screen (neutragena) has them :(

    We also make it a point to NOT overdo the sunscreen during pool time. But the pool is in shade 11-2 so that helps (and it keeps my water clean!)

  15. says

    Thanks for the post! I was just thinking I need to get sunscreen for the season, so I am headed to the local natural food store to get some! I am in the process of trying to find some beauty products that are natural for my face (face wash, lotion, etc). Anyone have any good ones? I have somewhat oily skin, but my nose is always dry. This leads to issues of figuring out what solution to use (for dry skin, oil skin, normal skin). Ugh..beauty can be so annoying sometimes!

  16. says

    I’m all about a healthy glow – minus the red. I didn’t grow up wearing a lot of sunscreen, and I don’t think I ever burned until I was in high school and no longer in the sun all the time during the summer months. My rule of thumb is take a break from the sun if you’re getting too pink. And if you’re going to be in or around water, be sure to lather up!

  17. Marisa @ Where's The Party? says

    Yup! Commercial sunscreens can actually CAUSE cancer because of the oxybenzone (sp?) Great post!!!! I don’t think people are made aware of the icky chemicals lurking in products that supposedly protect us. After looking up the supposed (Natural Aveeno Baby Sunscreen which is awful btw!) I decided to switch my baby to California Baby’s sunscreen stick. And babies shouldn’t be in direct sun for very long anyhow with or without sunscreen. I use it on myself also but dab on bronzer/blush to cover up the white!

  18. says

    JoLynne, I was also on thyroid (my Dr preferred Armour) for several years in my early 20’s. Symptoms I had had since I was 17 disappeared overnight. In my 4th pregnancy my thyroid did a bit of a flip flip and became a little overactive. It settled down after the birth and I haven’t taken hormones in years. I manage it with diet (a Weston A Price philosophy), coconut oil, avoid wheat (which I have allergy to), etc.

    On sunscreen, I wrote a post about this last year (linked to my comment here). My kids and I were at the pool every day all summer and nobody burned. We used coconut oil on our skin, and we all take Cod Liver Oil too, which may offer protection against burning.

    I also experienced tummy trouble my whole life until I went to a raw milk, traditional fats diet. Now, none! I hope some of this is helpful.

  19. says

    Oops, also wanted to mention that I’m totally “with you on that” when it comes to enjoying time in the sun. I finally realized now that I’m in my 30’s that I’ve had a lifelong issue with mild depression during winter. I find that my physical and emotional health are so much better when I spend some time in the sun each day. :) We have to trust those instincts!

  20. says

    Great post. Being here in Minnesota where we have to cover up for so much of the year, there has been a fair amount of discussion of this lately as well. Thanks for sharing your learnings and perspective.

  21. says

    Thank you so much for this post! Following some of the links, I found “Loving Naturals” which seems like a great choice! Seriously, I can’t thank you enough for posting this!

  22. says

    I feel like I’ve read somewhere that the cumulative effect of all that sunscreen washing off in the ocean may be responsible for the bleaching of the coral reefs. It seems to make sense, doesn’t it? An ocean full of chemical sunblock?

    I actually don’t like being in the sun, so I go out in the wee early hours or late afternoon. I’ve never really used sunscreen except when going to concrete jungles all day (Six Flags, for instance).

    • Jo-Lynne says

      I take the kids to the pool several times a week during the summer, so we have to use sunblock or they will burn. I hate to think of all the chemicals I’ve slathered on their bodies over the years. *shudder*

  23. Susan says

    I agree with you about the sunscreen. I do not use a daily sunscreen for incidental “I’m just running into Target” exposure. The sun is blistering in Texas in the summer so we do use a lot when we are at the pool in direct sun. I will check out the product you mentioned.

    As far as the thyroid, it is my personal experience that sometimes hypothyroid patients do not even have the insight to recognize symptoms when they have them. Fatigue, indigestion, constipation and a mental sluggishness/memory loss are all pervasive symptoms that prevent people from really recognizing what is going on. More often than not, the onset of symptoms is so gradual that the person doesn’t even recognize them and comes to recognize the symptoms as their new baseline. I am only slightly hypo but I can totally feel myself spacing out more, saying the wrong words and putting the milk in the pantry (true story!) when my numbers are off. I hate Armour thyroid…….the dose is never really precise because it varies from pig to pig! Plus, there have been several documented shortages in manufacturing lately. But that’s just my personal opinion!

    • Jo-Lynne says

      Susan, thanks for the input. I haven’t noticed a difference since going off the Synthroid, but I’m going to pay closer attention now. I’m also bummed by your experience with Armour thyroid. I was hoping it would be a better alternative for me.

  24. says

    Funny… MY doctor told me the SAME thing! 😉

    BTW, you should all be aware that if you are anything but pale white, the zinc oxide sunscreen will leave a pasty white film on your skin. That’s the nature of ZO2

  25. says

    I’m pretty sure someone answered you in the comments so I’m sure my amazing comment will seem…not so amazing. Anywhoo…

    I go to a natural skin care salon for facials, etc. She said the only TRUE sunblock is zinc oxide. And in fact most other sunblock ingredients are akin to “no tears shampoo” they only mask the burning feel. There were other better points, but I specifically remembered this one.

    Thanks for that brand heads up. It’s hard to find good sunblock!

  26. says

    You can put seaweed in your chicken stock and it doesn’t hardly change the taste. Thought that might help! 😉 Also seaweed powder for smoothies.

    When not at the beach, I use coconut oil as sunscreen.
    Very important subject to post on – I wish I knew more!
    :) Katie

    • Jo-Lynne says

      Coconut oil. Really? Hunh. I didn’t know it acted as a sunscreen.

      And thanks for the clue on seaweed in chicken stock!

  27. Valerie Trautman says

    I have a six-month-old and I’m trying to be very careful about all chemicals, etc. he might come in contact with. As the spring/summer approaches, I’m so thankful for your info on this subject! I’m curious though … how do you handle sunscreen with an infant? put it on every time the sun will touch his skin, or does the principle hold true even for infants that a little sun is a good thing (of course a smaller amount for a little one?)

    • Jo-Lynne says

      Disclaimer: I am not an expert and this may not be the advice a doctor would give you.

      But. I was never uptight about the sun, even when mine were babies. I wasn’t cavalier about it either, but 5 or 10 min of sun isn’t going to burn them. I would put a hat on them and have a light, breathable blanket handy to put over the stroller if you’re out for long. And of course, try not to take them out when the sun is at its strongest at that age. That’s what I did and what I’d do now, knowing this latest info.


  28. says

    We use Burts Bees and California Baby on the kids…I have issues because they are fairly thick and hard to get the kids to sit still long enough to rub in – so they often end up with sunscreen white faces and arms…which makes pictures in the summer look crazy!

  29. says

    Ah, sunscreen. Such a controversial issue. For morning and late afternoon hours, we tend to forgo sunscreen. If we are going to be out in the sun between 10-3 for a longer stint, I apply sunscreen (on myself + my girls)…but I try to stick to natural brands with words like “baby” and “gentle” on the front. Lately, we’ve been using Neutrogena Baby…

  30. says

    Thanks for the post!

    I’ve had a thyroid problem for about 7 years now. I was on Levothyroxine for a couple years before I finally got switched to Armour. The first time I took it, I felt so much better! The fog had been lifted!! I won’t ever go back. It has made such a difference for me, I tell everyone who will listen how great it is!

  31. Mina Tan says

    Good topic Jo. This is my concern of the sunscreen product… Some say Zinc Oxida is good but some say from research by using zinc Oxida will cause cancer… If that is true some of organic brand like Eco logical using zinc Oxida as main ingredient. I wonder it is safe??

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