Is Your Sunscreen Doing More Harm than Good?

Is your sunscreen making you sick title imageI remember that summer like it was yesterday.

I can’t tell you what year it was or how old I was — I was young, probably around five or six…

But the pain…  Oh the pain!

It was summer and my family was vacationing in Biarritz in the south of France.  My siblings and I spent the day playing at the water’s edge, splashing in the waves, building sand castles, digging trenches… Having the time of our life without a care in the world.

I’m sure mom had lathered us with sunscreen and reminded us to keep our T-shirts and hats on… But somehow, by the end of the day, we were practically naked, completely oblivious to the scorching sun baking our skin.

It wasn’t until we got home and took our showers that we felt the intense and unforgettable pain… All four of us had suffered second degree burns and had giant, fluid filled blisters on our backs! Let me tell you neither one of us, nor my poor mom got much sleep the following nights.

We certainly learned our lesson that day and never found ourselves in such a dangerous situation again.

Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

Sun damage is not only extremely painful, it is one of the leading contributors to basal and squamous cell carcinomas, two of the rarest and most fatal forms of skin cancers.  And according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), more than two million Americans develop skin cancer each year.

So what do we do?  We slather on copious amounts of high level SPF sunscreens. I remember the days when you could not find sunscreens with a higher SPF than 10 or 15 yet now it’s common to find SPF 50 or even 100 offered in a many different ways. These sunscreens come in a variety of presentation including lotions and sprays.

With the rise of the SPF and the almost automatic use of sunscreen, however, a new problem has  come to the attention of health professionals: alarming rates of dangerously low levels of vitamin D! Our bodies need sunlight to produce this unique vitamin that we cannot obtain from our food. Vitamin D is key for optimum health, and ironically provides a natural defense against skin cancer.

Even more alarming is the discovery that the vast majority of sunscreens available today contain harmful chemicals that have been shown by some studies to contribute to some of the most devastating forms of skin cancer, as well as lead to allergic reactions, hormone disruption and accelerated aging.

So what is a caring mom to do?

First and foremost learn which ingredients are the most harmful (parabens, oxybenzone, retynil palmitate) and what products to avoid.  The EWG has compiled a “Hall of Shame” exposing the most dangerous sunscreens available today.  Make sure to check out that list and if you find that you are using a product on the list, throw it out and replace it with an organic sunscreen that is either unscented or scented with essential oils. With the heightened awareness about the devastating consequences of harmful chemicals a variety of safe products are available either online or at your local health food store. Make sure to read labels and properly vet these products before purchasing them.

How To Choose a Safe Sunscreen

Look for sunscreens that:

  • are made from mineral based ingredients that do not penetrate the skin (zinc oxide for example)
  • have an SPF range of 10 to 30, 50 at most.
  • contain no parabens
  • are broad spectrum (UVA and UVB)
  • are unscented or scented with essential oils
  • are lotion based (sorry spray are a big no-no)
  • are non-nano


Choosing a Safe Sunscreen infographic

For years now, I’ve mostly gone without sunscreen because I am one of those lucky ladies with dangerously low levels of vitamin D, thanks in part to my lovely olive skin.  Instead I control the amount of time I spend in the sun. When I know I’ll be out for an extended period of time, I allow myself some unprotected time (about half an hour or so) then put on a fabulous and stylish large brimmed hat!

Sun safety can be fun!  To encourage you to enjoy your time outdoors in a safe and healthy way, I’ve partnered with my friends at United Healthcare to bring you a fun set of summer dares.

Snap a selfie or two and upload your photo at and you could be the lucky winner of a gorgeous canopy.  You can enter once a day so go ahead and get snap crazy!

United Health Care July Dare Image

And while you are on the website, check out the other fun dares for a chance to win one of two  $400 Gift Card or one of the many weekly $25 Gift cards.

United Healthcare July Dares
This post is sponsored by United Healthcare. All opinions are my own.

Is your Sunscreen Safe or is it on the Hall of Shame?

Have you found a non-toxic solution you’d like to share?


  1. heather z says:

    I have been worried about this for some time. This is the first year I have went to natural for my family. I often look to the EWG to see what is the best.

    • The EWG is a fantastic resource Heather and one I consult regularly. I try to do my due diligence and double check the info I get from them with other sources but they have proven to be quite reliable and truly committed to our health. I’m thrilled you’ve switched to more natural products for your family 🙂

  2. I try not to go out in the sun too much, because I am very light skin. And I burn very easily.

  3. alicia szemon says:

    I always use about a 50 on my skin because i burn easily

    • I would encourage you to make sure whichever brand you use is safe Alicia. Even with sensitive skin, a 30 SPF made from all wholesome ingredients should offer you all the protection you need.

  4. I avoid the sun. Especially at certain times of day. When I use a sunscreen it’s for sensitive skin.

    • Staying out of the direct sun is the best way to stay safe Lisa. I would still encourage you to double check the ingredients in your sunscreen and check out the “hall of shame: on the EWG website as some of the ones made especially for sensitive skins, from brands we’ve come to trust as being healthier than others, such as Neutrogena, are actually some of the worse, most toxic choices available to us.

  5. To be honest I never really wear sunscreen. If I do I buy some at my local Whole Foods Market they have good organic stuff and don’t use any bad stuff ingredients in their products.

    • I love that Tara! I generally don’t wear it either and if I do because I plan on being out for an extended period of time (sailing all day for example) I’ll either buy a high end all organic brand with a handful of ingredients I can recognize, or make my own with coconut oil and essential oils.

  6. Ashley Nolan says:

    Awesome pointers about sunscreen, I have sensitive skin and always wear it when I am out in the sun, will stay protected when I go on vacation with the kids.

    • I’m glad you found these helpful Ashley. Sensitive skin tends to be sensitive to more than just UV’s and selecting protection that is not harmful all the more important. Enjoy a beautiful summer!

  7. We were just talking about this last weekend.

  8. Linda Manns Linneman says:

    I did not realize this about sun screens. I will definitely be doing some research on this matter. Thank you so much for sharing

  9. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says:

    I actually don’t even wear sunscreen. I know I will pay for it someday, but just not today.

    • You may actually be making on e of the healthiest decision Robin! I barely ever use sunscreen either. I’m much rather monitor my time in the sun than pay the heavy price of a toxic overload 🙂

  10. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. We are at the pool a lot and my kids wear it almost daily so I want them safe.

    • It sounds like you are enjoying a wonderful summer Ellen! I would simply encourage you to make sure you use a “clean” sunscreen, keep your kids well hydrated and lather up with some raw coconut oil at the end of the day after showers.

  11. I look into our sunscreens because the chemicals scare me so bad. Most days we don’t even wear sunscreen. It’s all about conditioning your skin and then you won’t burn.

    • Yes Jennifer!!! You are so right and thank you for sharing this invaluable bit of information! If we keep our skin healthy and well hydrated from the inside out then we should not have much to worry about when it comes to sun exposure. Everyone is different and we all need to be aware of our unique strengths and vulnerabilities and make choices that are the best for those. Daily “naked” sun exposure is so healthy and something we should all indulge in regularly for at least 20 to 30 minutes… It is scary how loaded with chemicals most sun products are and yes, we must stay educated and make careful choices.

  12. I love the EWG, but haven’t checked out their Hall of Shame. It is something that I will do very soon. I can see where there could be problems with low Vitamin D because of excessive use of sunscreen.

    • The EWG is a phenomenal resource Lynda, and I highly encourage you to check our their “Hall of Shame”. I was shocked to find so many products on there that I would have considered healthy and safe. Very enlightening!

  13. We walk a fine line with sunscreen as my son and I have sensitive skin. We balance covering up with clothing and limiting sunscreen to the face and neck unless we are swimming. It is very important to watch what we are using! Thank you for the tips!

  14. I need to wear sunscreen more often! I always put it on my kids, but forget about myself most of the time. Thank heavens I have not gotten burned this year (knock on wood!).

    • I hardly ever wear sunscreen Kim and have not gotten a sunburn in years! If you do well without sunscreen, then you might not need to use one at all. If you do decide to use one, just make sure you choose a brand that is clean and does not contain any toxic substances.

  15. You know my two kids are complete opposites. My daughter gets a sun burn if you dont get her before she goes out, always on her face and my son is so dark he looks Greek and never gets a sunburn!

    • I hear you Trisha, I have three girls and they all have different skin tones! My oldest is a bit like your sun, gets a golden hue as soon as she is out in the sun for 5 minutes, while my second is much more fair and therefore needs to be much more careful. My third is somewhere in the middle — she is naturally fair but tans really fast, go figure! Sun care is different for each one 🙂

  16. I have never really had a bad sunburn so I’ve been fortunate but my husband has – he’s very fair. He’s had several skin cancers taken out so he’s extremely careful now.

    • I’m sorry about your husband Patty but it sounds like he’s doing well now. We can never be too careful both about our sun exposure and what we use for protection. I suspect your husband wears a hat and long sleeve shirts when he is out in the sun now.

  17. YES! I think some sunscreens cause more harm than good. I’m very careful about the ingredients that I put on my kids.

    • It’s sad but we do have to be so careful about sunscreens and other beauty products. I’m glad to hear you’re being careful Ashley, and selecting products that don’t contain harmful chemicals.

  18. I need to change our sunscreens out – but we do use Zinc Oxide on our faces and ears. My husband was recently diagnosed with melanoma (it was removed and he is cancer-free now). I am SO much more vigilant about sunscreen than I used to be.

    • Wow Sara! I’m so glad your husband is now cancer free! That must have been very scary! My husband uses Zinc Oxide on his face as well. Zinc Oxide is considered safe because it does not penetrate the skin.

  19. I have been a fanatic about our sunscreen since my kids were born, but we are also living on a farm so we have a healthy respect for the sun and the good and bad that can come with it.

    • What a blessing for your children to be raised on a farm Andrea! I love your mindset about understanding that a healthy respect for the sun is necessary! Sunshine does offer so many healthy benefits! In addition to much needed Vitamin D it’s a powerful mood enhancer!

  20. You think you are protecting yourself and your family but you’ve really got to check ingredients. Thanks for the list of what to look for.

  21. Knocking on wood that I’ve been lucky enough to never get a sunburn here. My mom did have skin cancer, though, so it is a very fine line for me. I do think it is important to get some sun daily, but keeping it in intervals your body can handle.

    • I love that mindset Michelle! Keeping our sun exposure to intervals our own bodies can handle! I am sorry to hear that your mom suffered from skin cancer and I’m sure that has made you keenly aware of the dangers of toxic ingredients that are found in many beauty and sun care products.

  22. I hardly ever put any on me but always slather up the kids. I really should stop and think more about my skin too, just because I don’t burn doesn’t mean I’m not doing damage.

    • I hardly ever use sunscreen Chelle, but when I do, I am extremely picky about my selection. I’ve even started making my own with a coconut oil base that is proving to be quite effective… And it leaves my skin silky soft and smelling scrumptious 🙂

  23. I love the sun, but I understand the importance of limiting it and keeping your skin healthy. These are great tips!

  24. I really had no idea. It’s amazing what we just assume is safe and actually may not be.

  25. Thank you for the informative post! The list of how to choose a safe sunscreen for my family is especially helpful. 😀

  26. As someone who has seen melanoma in my family, I wear sunscreen religiously. We are fair skinned, and very prone to burning, even just after a few minutes in the sun.

    • Fair skin does mean a higher sensitivity to the sun and so many other things Michelle! I’m sorry you’ve had a personal experience with melanoma. I remember the first time a friend of mine shared that he had skin cancer… It was really scary. He too is fair skinned and an avid golfer. He had to get a huge skin graph which was very painful. Please make sure you use sunscreens that are safe and don’t contain harmful chemicals! They may be a little more expensive than others but well worth it if you need to keep your skin protected.

  27. Jo-Ann Brightman says:

    I was not aware that Sunscreen spray was not good for us. thank you for all this info on how to find a safe sunscreen.

    • Unfortunately Jo-Ann, sprays are some of the worse culprits, in part because of the chemicals needed to make them easy to use, but also because it’s easy for the spray to be inhaled or get into our eyes and they need to be reapplied pretty frequently to be effective.

  28. Lori Pouncey says:

    Many people are not aware that they are actually doing more harm than good by applying the wrong sunscreens! We fall for the advertising propagandas as consumers, we believe what they tell us is safe and good for us! But what they do not tell us is that their products are packed full of cancer causing ingredients and toxins, chemicals that actually attract the suns rays causing you to burn worse! I use only Goddess Garden sunscreen for myself and my wee one! They are top rated by the EWG and best you can buy 🙂

    • Yes we are so easily fooled by advertisers Lori! They have become so smart and know how to play on our emotions and use language that lead us to believe their products are safe/ Too many companies put profit before our well being. I have not personally used Goddess Garden products but I have heard nothing but good things about them and love their list of ingredients 🙂

  29. Jo-Ann Brightman says:

    These are such important tips. we forget to look at the ingredients in sunscreen and they are not always benevolent.

  30. Sunscreen ingredients scare me so much. I use the 100% Pure sun stick, but (i know, I know bad) most days I just go without. I can’t stomach the idea of slathering myself in chemicals

    • I think going without sunscreen is good thing Anna! It’s the best way to get our much needed dose of vitamin D and with the chemicals too often found in sunscreens, it’s the surest way to stay safe. I too turn to 100% natural sunscreens when I do use them, and make sure I can read every ingredient in there!

  31. Alexandria says:

    Thank you! You are part of the solution!

  32. wen budro says:

    Thank you for the great information. There are so many products to be wary of because of all the toxins and chemicals. Your post is helpful re sunscreen ingredients.

    • You are most welcome Wen! The good news is that consumers are becoming more savvy and that money talks. Stopping to purchase products that are filled with toxic ingredients that we don’t want them 🙂

  33. Danielle says:

    Can’t go in the sun too much because I have fair skin and burn easily.

  34. Brenda Haines says:

    I would rather not use sunblock, we try to stay in the shade and keep track how long we are outside. When I know we will be out for a long day, I do use hats and sunblock on my son.

  35. I never knew it could make you sick. I will pay attention to the signs in the future.

  36. Lily Kwan says:

    This information about sunscreen is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

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