How to Select Your Sunscreen. . . and Other Things to Consider About the Sun

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It is that time of year again, when the sunscreen gets pulled out of the cabinet. It had been a couple of years since I researched the available options, so I decided to check out the latest products. I will show you how to select a sunscreen and share what my family uses.

The truth is, we use very little sunscreen throughout the summer. There are a few reasons why. So, before I get to my newest favorite sunscreen products, I want mention some other things to consider.

Sun and Vitamin D

Did you know that if you are wearing sunscreen, you are limiting the nutrients that get absorbed into your body? I actually believe there are multiple micro-nutrients we get from the sun, both through our skin and our eyes. The neurotransmitter serotonin is just one example. If you are always wearing sunscreen (and sun glasses), you are missing opportunities to obtain these vital nutrients.

The sun is also our main source of natural Vitamin D3, which is critical for many processes in the body. Vitamin D3 actually acts more like a hormone than a vitamin and it is needed to maintain good gene health, a healthy immune system, strong bones and teeth, just to name a few.

(Certain foods such as wild salmon, quality organ meats, and farm eggs also supply Vitamin D3. Fortified foods, on the other hand, supply the synthetic version Vitamin D2, which is not the same.)

It is actually very healthy to purposely get 10 to 20 minutes of sun per day without sunscreen. (The length of time will depend on your skin type.) In fact, many natural healing programs actually require time in the sun.

My suggestion is to use sunscreen only on an as-needed basis. Use sunscreen for those times when you know you will be in the sun for extended periods of time and use it more often in the early part of the summer as you build up your base tan.

Sunburns and Photo-sensitivity

There are other lifestyle choices that can determine how your skin is affected by the sun. For example, did you know that the more preservatives you eat, the more likely your skin will burn in the sun? The cleaner and more natural you eat and the more balanced your nutrients, the more your skin will be able to benefit from the sun.

There are also quite a few medications that can affect how your skin reacts to the sun. Photo-sensitivity can occur when the medication interacts with the ultraviolet (UV) radiation of the sun, resulting in a typical sunburn or brown splotches, tenderness, rash/hives, etc. Certain antibiotics can cause this, as well as many oral contraceptives, statin drugs, diabetic drugs, antihistamines, acne medications, just to name a few. Even over the counter NSAIDs, like Ibuprofen, can cause sensitivity to the sun.

(You should also consider how the many chemicals in mainstream sunscreens could interact with your medications, if you are taking any.)

Quality of Sunscreens

What we put on our skin gets absorbed into our bodies, some say up to 60%, so you want to make sure your sunscreen has quality ingredients. There’s a big difference between sunscreen brands. Like other body products, the products are not closely regulated so many chemicals are used.

Your sunscreen, especially those that are not mineral based, include chemicals to block the sun. They might include chemicals like octocrylene, octisalate, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, cinoxate, dioxybenzone, among others. PABA and trolamine salicylate were other common chemicals that have more recently been banned. Over time these chemicals accumulate in the body and can cause a number of health issues. Learn more about these chemicals here.

Preservatives, like parabens and phthalates, and synthetic fragrances, as explained in this article, are other things to avoid.

Additionally, you want to avoid any sunscreen products that contain nanoparticals. That means that a particular ingredient has been purposely reduced to an ultra-tiny particle, which is more easily absorbed by your skin. These particles can get into your blood stream and accumulate in your body.

And, definitely avoid the spray-on sunscreens. Not only are they wasteful since so much over-spray occurs, but you and those around you end up breathing in the sunscreen. The ingredients end up directly in your lungs.

Other Sunscreen Options

Before grabbing for the sunscreen, first consider other ways to cover up: wear a large-brimmed hat, wear a long sleeve shirt, use an umbrella, bring a portable tent, etc. You can also preplan your sun excursions – breaking up the day so that there is some sun activities and some shade activities.

When you know that you will have a prolonged time in the sun, like an extended family picnic or going to the beach, use a quality sunscreen. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a great database. They research the ingredients, check the products, and suggest the best ones. It is updated annually and can be found here.

You can use this database two ways: (1) use the search function to type in the name of your current sunscreen and see how it rates and (2) use the various lists to find the best brand for your needs.

Select a Sunscreen – My Top Picks

The things that are most important when you select a sunscreen and what I look for include:

  • organic ingredients that are food based
  • no artificial chemicals or preservatives
  • mineral based product using zinc oxide (not titanium dioxide)
  • no nano-particles
  • gluten-free and GMO-free

After reviewing the newest EWG lists, these are my current top sunscreen brand choices: Badger, Bare Belly, and Erbaviva. My family has been using this Badger product for a few years now, however, they more recently came out with this clear zinc option which rubs in clear so you do not get the white chalky look.

When you select a sunscreen you may want to consider baby products. These sunscreens tend to have fewer ingredients yet are often good for the whole family. You can learn more about which ingredients to avoid by reading EWG’s Sunscreen Guide.

If you want to learn more about other bath and body products and how to start using healthier options, check out my previous article here.

This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website. Including additional suggested resources (books and articles) by topic, a pantry list that is gluten-free, dairy free and GMO-free, and a healing foods list.

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