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How to choose a safe sunscreen.

What You Will Learn in This Article

  • The difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens
  • How to choose a sunscreen
  • Avoiding skin cancer
  • How to apply sunscreen
  • Greenwashing in the natural sunscreen space
  • A sunscreen brand we love

Spending time outside in the sunshine can be so enjoyable and rejuvenating. In fact, it’s really essential for optimal health since our skin uses sunlight to make vitamin D. (1)

Vitamin D, we now know, isn’t strictly a vitamin. It’s a nutrient that acts as a hormone precursor. (2) It’s an important nutrient for our hormone balance and for our overall balance, as it keeps inflammation in check and helps regulate our circadian rhythm to promote restful sleep. (3, 4) You can read more about vitamin D and its role in hormone balance by reading this article.

However, when it comes to sunshine, you can have too much of a good thing. Spending excess time in the sun can lead to sunburn, blistering skin, premature aging, and even skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer we have in the United States. (5)

Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, kills nearly 20 Americans each day. While most people think about watching for changes in moles, the vast majority of melanomas are found in normal looking skin. (6)

Because there are concerns about skin cancer from too much sun, and vitamin D deficiency from too little sun, the use of sunscreen is widely debated. However, research has confirmed that using sunscreen does help reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. (7, 8)

In this article, we’ll cover how to keep a balance of sun exposure and sun protection, plus, how to protect your skin without using harmful chemicals. We’ll start by covering the difference between mineral sunscreen and traditional chemical-based sunscreen.

Mineral vs. Chemical

Sunscreen Mineral vs Chemical

There are two categories when it comes to sunscreen products: mineral sunscreens and chemical sunscreens.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, (9)

  • “Mineral” (or “Physical”) sunscreens rely on zinc oxide or titanium oxide (or both) to provide a physical barrier to sunlight penetrating the skin. They act like a shield.
  • “Chemical” sunscreens, on the other hand, don’t create a physical barrier. Instead, they absorb the UV light before it can cause damage to the skin. They act like a sponge.

Both mineral and chemical sunscreens have their pros and cons.

Mineral sunscreens are the original sunscreen. You’ll know someone’s using a mineral sunscreen if they have a white residue on their skin. The active ingredient, either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, is what makes it white. These two ingredients are the only sunscreen active ingredients that are recognized by the FDA as being both safe and effective. (10) Mineral sunscreens tend to have a simpler ingredient list.

Chemical sunscreens are considered “regular sunscreen” nowadays. Think of traditional Banana Boat or Neutragena sunscreens. This type of sunscreen got highly popularized, partly because of huge advertising budgets and partly because it’s easy to apply and doesn’t leave a white film on your skin. Unfortunately, the chemicals used in this type of sunscreen are harmful and full of endocrine disruptors. For some people, they cause allergic reactions. (11)

If you tend to be sensitive to ingredients and want to live a toxin-free life, a mineral sunscreen is likely to be a better option for you. In the next section, we’ll go over what to look for when shopping for a safe and effective sunscreen.

How to Choose a Sunscreen

If you’re in need of some guidance when it comes to finding a natural sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has put together a great resource in its EWG Sunscreen Guide. You can use the search bar at the top of the page to check your favorite brand’s toxic load. (12)

You can also click on “See the List” to view EWG’s top recommended brands if you are planning to buy a new one. The brands are listed in alphabetical order, from A to Z. Each product is given a Hazard Score, from 1 to 10. A score of 0 to 2 is low hazard to health 3 to 6 is moderate hazard, and 7 to 10 is high hazard, according to the EWG guidelines. You can see the EWG’s report, “The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens” here. (13)

There are a lot of other ingredients added to sunscreens and other skincare products that are linked to various cancers. In wearing sunscreen to prevent skin burn and potentially skin cancer, it’s important to be aware of ingredients in the sunscreen that could promote cancer.

Endocrine disruptors are a huge problem in chemical sunscreens. You see there that some of EWG’s ingredients of concern include the following:

  • Oxybenzone: A xenoestrogen and a moderate anti-androgen.
  • Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate): Another endocrine disruptor. Negatively impacts the reproductive system, thyroid, and brain.
  • Homosalate: An endocrine disruptor. It negatively impacts estrogen, progesterone, and androgens.

As I’ve written about many times, endocrine disruptors in personal care products are a major contributor to Estrogen Dominance. For a complete guide on overcoming Estrogen Dominance, check out my new book on that very topic.

Not only are oxybenzone and octinoxate endocrine disruptors in humans. They also negatively impact our coral reefs. (14) The state of Hawaii went so far as to ban both oxybenzone and octinoxate to save their reefs. Governor David Ige signed a bill in 2018 to prohibit the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing these chemicals beginning on January 1, 2021. (15)

There are a lot of other ingredients added to sunscreens and other skincare products that are linked to various cancers. (You can read more about that here and here). In wearing sunscreen to prevent skin burn and potentially skin cancer, it’s important to be aware of ingredients in the sunscreen that could promote cancer.

Avoiding Skin Cancer + How to Apply Sunscreen

Back to skin cancer. Besides avoiding carcinogens in sunscreens and other personal care products, what’s the most important thing you can do to avoid skin cancer? Anytime we’re talking cancer, the immune system is key. One of the most important things you can do to promote a strong and healthy immune system is to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D. (16)

When it comes to applying sunscreen, how much is enough? How often should you apply it? It’s recommended to re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours or as needed. You may need to reapply it more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating. Drying yourself with a towel can also remove some of the sunscreen.

If you are going to be sweating or spending time in the water, you may want to seek out a water resistant sunscreen. It’s important to note that reapplying any sunscreen just gives your initial rub down a boost. It doesn’t allow you to stay in the sun longer without getting burnt.

Greenwashing in the Natural Sunscreen Space

Greenwashing is something that unfortunately happens frequently in the natural skincare space and sunscreens aren’t excluded. The term “greenwashing” refers to falsely portraying a product as natural, chemical-free, or environmentally-friendly. (17) A lot of “natural” sunscreens are anything but. You can read more about greenwashing in this article.

Speaking of greenwashing, there’s a new ingredient that’s been introduced to the “clean” sunscreen market. It’s called Butyloctyl Salicylate (BOS). You may have already seen it while reading labels. It’s in the same category as “chemical” sunscreen active ingredients and it’s added to increase the SPF without making the sunscreen more white. (18) Brands will list it in the “inactive ingredients” section of the product label, so you won’t see it alongside the Zinc Oxide.

BOS is not an approved sunscreen ingredient by the FDA in the United States. So we have to wonder, “Is it safe?” In Australia, the Therapeutical Goods Administration under the Department of Health determined that BOS should not be used in:

  • Children under 4 years of age
  • The last trimester of pregnancy
  • Those who have salicylate sensitivity
  • Asthma patients

Products containing BOS cannot have a concentration over 1%. (19)

With all the greenwashing that occurs these days, it can be difficult to find a company and product line you can trust.

Sunscreen Brand We Love: Suntegrity®

I’ve been looking for a clean sunscreen for nearly two years. I’ve found companies to be greenwashing, marketing their products at very high prices, and regularly running out of inventory. I’ve finally found a brand my team and I truly love – Suntegrity®.

My personal experience: testing the sunscreen at high altitude

After the launch of the latest book, I needed a break. I went on a short vacation at a hot spring, high up in the Rocky Mountains, elevation 8,000 feet. I would do daily hikes with my dogs, often to places as high as 10,000 feet above sea level. You can easily get burnt at this altitude if the sunscreen isn’t effective enough. I would be out for 4 to 5 hours at the time, and would only reapply the lip gloss, not the face sunscreen (didn’t feel the need for it). They passed the litmus test–my skin was well protected and I didn’t even get the slightest burn. This is the moment I knew this product was worthy of an introduction to the Hormones Balance community.

Loving the look and feel

I’ve tried enough natural, clean and safe sunscreen lotions from artisanal makers to know that even if they work, they can look white and pasty. Suntegrity products are smooth to apply, and the tinted products look and feel like your second skin. It felt like wearing a light foundation without feeling like I did (you know the feeling of heaviness, stickiness). The lip glosses are vibrant and illuminating, and don’t taste of any nasty chemicals (because none are to be found).

Founder’s story (it matters)

I tend to resonate with companies and partners who have a highly personal story that impacted or results in them creating a product. There is a very different energy behind a mission-based product as compared with another for-profit, fad-chasing product.

Suntegrity‘s founder is all about that; Tricia Trimble started the company in honor of her mother, who passed away from melanoma skin cancer.

After her mother died, Tricia became a strong advocate of wearing sunscreen, but she was concerned about the number of toxic ingredients in the vast majority of sunscreens on the market. Suntegrity was her solution and her contribution for healthy sun protection.

Suntegrity has been a trailblazer in the natural/mineral sunscreen industry since they began in 2010. At that time, the natural sunscreen industry was just stepping out with new formulations. It was a response to the chemical-based sunscreens that were the only available options in the past.

Those sunscreens included ingredients like nano particles, titanium oxide, PABA, Parsol 1789, parabens, octinoxate, homosalate, padimate O, benzophenone, and more. Just do some research on these ingredients to find evidence of DNA damage, organ toxicity, links to cancer, and more.

Suntergity’s products have a simple list of ingredients and are made with non-nano zinc oxide as the only active ingredient. Suntegrity’s main ingredients include the following:

Safe and Effective Ingredients:

Zinc Oxide (non-nano): This is the only active ingredient in the products. The fact that non-nano zinc oxide is used is important. Nano minerals are super small (nano-sized) particles that have been linked to reproductive harm and DNA damage. (20)

Suntegrity chose to use non-nano zinc oxide instead of titanium dioxide because:

  • Zinc Oxide provides better UVA/UVB protection than Titanium Dioxide.
  • Titanium Dioxide tends to create more free radical damage to your skin cells, contributing to aging.
  • Zinc Oxide is the active ingredient for sunscreen that’s “Generally Recognized As Safe and Effective” (GRASE – formerly GRAS) for use on babies under 6 months of age. It’s used as a part of diaper cream to soothe irritation.
  • Zinc is an important mineral for good health, which you’ll often find in multivitamin formulas.

Organic Avocado Oil: Avocado (Persea gratissima) provides a fair amount of protection from UV damage, according to research. (21). An added benefit is that it contains an ingredient (sterolin, a plant sterol), which helps produce collagen. (22)

Sea Buckthorn Extract: Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) has anti-aging effects and has been shown to help protect the skin against sun damage. (23, 24)

Organic Cocoa Butter: Cocoa butter (Theobroma cacao) also shows evidence of sun protection (25)

Organic Jojoba Seed Oil: Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) is said to have the same pH as human skin. It also boosts collagen production, which helps the skin stay youthful. (26)

Grape Seed Oil: The oil from grape (Vitis vinifera) seeds has been shown to help protect your skin from UV damage. (27)

Other ingredients: Some other powerful, naturally-derived or organic ingredients Suntegrity uses in its products include: aloe vera, sunflower seed oil, green tea extract, pomegranate seed oil, hyaluronic acid, astaxanthin, and orange and tangerine essential oils.

Suntegrity has included a lot of skin protecting ingredients, like natural oils and butters that protect against UV damage. It has also included powerful, skin health promoting ingredients, like the antioxidants listed above. This company is all about preserving the health and youth of skin while avoiding dangerous chemicals. On that note, here’s what’s NOT in Suntegrity products.

What’s NOT in Suntegrity®

Suntegrity is all about integrity when it comes to ingredients – hence, the name. That’s why you won’t find these in their products:

  • Chemical UV Blockers & Absorbers
  • Parabens – Endocrine disruptors
  • Phthalates – Endocrine disruptors that are linked to low thyroid, fertility problems, certain cancers, and more.
  • Mineral oil – Endocrine disruptor
  • Harsh irritants
  • Reef harming ingredients – including oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, microbeads, nanoparticles, & PABA

Obviously, the ingredients are a big deal. We don’t want to be putting things in our skin that we don’t want in our body. But there are a few more reasons why we love Suntegrity.

10 More Reasons We Love Suntegrity:

Gives the skin a beautiful glow

The first thing is that Suntegrity actually gives your skin a beautiful glow. It almost feels like a second skin, it’s so moisturizing and smooth. Suntegrity’s product line includes cosmetics, including a tinted moisturizer and lip gloss. If you are not sure what shades and colors to get, I recommend to get their sample kits.

EWG Approved

Another thing to love about Suntegrity is that it’s approved by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It’s actually been a top rated sunscreen company on the EWG Sunscreen Guides since 2010. Suntegrity received a #1 rating in the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. (28)

The Environmental Working Group’s list of EWG Verified products are those that they consider safe and free of harmful chemicals. An EWG VERIFIED™ stamp indicates that the product:

✔ Avoids EWG’s “ingredients of concern”
✔ Provides full transparency (meets EWG’s standards for full disclosure)
✔ Uses good manufacturing practices

Suntegrity is not only safe for our own use; it’s also safe for our environment.

Reef Safe

Unlike many other sunscreens which have been polluting our oceans for decades, Suntegrity is certified Reef Safe. It even was featured in Travel+Leisure’s article on reef friendly sunscreens. (29) The National Ocean Service has put together a report about how sunscreen chemicals can affect ocean life. (14)

Dangerous chemicals in most sunscreen products include the following:

  • 3-Benzylidene camphor
    4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
    Octocrylene
    Benzophenone-1
    Benzophenone-8
    OD-PABA
    nano-Titanium dioxide
    nano-Zinc oxide
    Octinoxate
    Oxygenzone

Suntegrity is free of all those toxic chemicals.

Award Winning

Suntegrity products have won the following awards:

Impeccable Skin won DERMASCOPE Aestheticians’ Choice Award for 2021 Favorite Facial Sunscreen (30)
Impeccable Skin also won Healing Lifestyles 11th Annual Earth Day Beauty Award for Best Tinted SPF (31)
Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer won Allure’s Best of Beauty 2013 Natural Wonders Award (32)

This company not only has won awards; it’s also on a mission for cancer patients.

Mission Partner with Oncology Spa Solutions

Suntegrity is a mission partner with Oncology Spa Solutions. Oncology Spa Solutions is a training and education program for aestheticians who want to give specific care for cancer patients.

Suntegrity and other mission partners have products that support those going through cancer and cancer treatments. They are free from harmful chemicals, toxins, and fragrances. These products are also compatible with the skin and immune changes cancer patients go through. (33)

Woman Owned Business

Just as Hormones & Balance, Suntegrity® is a woman-owned and woman-run business. It was also created as a loving tribute to a mother.

Cruelty-Free

Suntegrity is a cruelty free company, and most of its products are vegan.

Green Practices

Suntegrity doesn’t just commit to safety and sustainability in its product ingredients. It’s also committed to sustainability in its packaging. Their current packaging makes use of these materials and practices:

  • Recycled PCR plastics
  • Bio-based plastics (made from sugarcane)
  • Packaging that is refillable or reusable
  • Elimination of unnecessary boxes
  • Biodegradable loose fill or reuse from suppliers
  • Commitment to replace additional packaging with eco-friendly materials as they become available

All these things help them keep a lower carbon footprint.

Made in USA

Suntegrity’s products are proudly made in the USA.

Featured in Top Magazines & Blogs

Suntegrity is not an unknown company. It’s been featured in these top magazines and blogs:

  • MindBodyGreen
  • Women’s Health
  • dermascope
  • Allure
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Goop
  • The Organic Girl
  • The detox market

And many more. Kathie Lee Gifford even mentioned Suntegrity as one of her “Favorite Things” on the Today Show back in 2017. (34)

Prepare for Fun (or Work) in the Sun

Make the switch to a truly natural, reef-safe, award-winning sunscreen. Suntegrity has a variety of products to choose from, for the whole body. Here are just a few of my favorites:

You can get Suntegrity products at a 10% discount with code HB10 until Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Shop and save now.

Resources

(1) Piotrowska, Anna et al. “Vitamin D in the skin physiology and pathology.” Acta biochimica Polonica. 2016.

(2) Sassi, Francesca et al. “Vitamin D: Nutrient, Hormone, and Immunomodulator.” Nutrients. November 2018.

(3) El-Sharkawy, Ahmed, and Ahmed Malki. “Vitamin D Signaling in Inflammation and Cancer: Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutic Implications.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). July 2020.

(4) Romano, Fiammetta et al. “Vitamin D and Sleep Regulation: Is there a Role for Vitamin D?.” Current pharmaceutical design. 2020.

(5) American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Skin Cancer.” American Academy of Dermatology website. n.d.

(6) Skin Cancer Foundation. “Melanoma Overview: A Dangerous Cancer.” January 2021.

(7) Watts, Caroline G et al. “Sunscreen Use and Melanoma Risk Among Young Australian Adults.” JAMA dermatology. 2018.

(8) Green, Adèle C et al. “Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: randomized trial follow-up.” Journal of clinical oncology: official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2011.

(9) American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Is sunscreen safe?” American Academy of Dermatology Association website. n.d.

(10) U. S. Food and Drug Administration. “FDA advances new proposed regulation to make sure that sunscreens are safe and effective.” FDA website. 2019.

(11) Scheuer, Elyse, and Erin Warshaw. “Sunscreen allergy: A review of epidemiology, clinical characteristics, and responsible allergens.” Dermatitis. 2006.

(12) Environmental Working Group. “EWG Sunscreen Guide.” EWG website. Accessed April 24, 2021.

(13) Environmental Working Group. “The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens.” Accessed April 24, 2021.

(14) NOAA. Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs. National Ocean Service website. February 2021.

(15) Governor of the State of Hawaii, David Ige. “Office of the Governor – News Release – Governor David Ige Signs Bill Making Hawaii First in The World To Ban Certain Sunscreens. July 3, 2018.

(16) Prietl, Barbara et al. “Vitamin D and immune function.” Nutrients. July 2013.

(17) Dahl, Richard. “Green washing: Do you know what you’re buying?” Environmental health perspectives. 2010.

(18) IFI Claims Patent Services. Skin care and sunscreen composition containing dibenzoylmethane derivative, e.g., parsol® 1789, and C12, C16, C18 branched chain hydroxybenzoate and/or C12, C16 branched chain benzoate stabilizers/solubilizers. Google Patents. n.d.

(19) Australian Government Department of Health. Assessment of a New Topical Excipient: Butyloctyl Salicylate. Therapeutic Goods Administration. October 2006.

(20) Hou, C. C. & Zhu, J. Q. Nanoparticles and female reproductive system: how do nanoparticles affect oogenesis and embryonic development. Oncotarget. December 2017

(21) Rosenblat, Gennady et al. “Polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols derived from avocado suppress inflammatory response and provide non-sunscreen protection against UV-induced damage in skin cells.” Archives of dermatological research. 2011.

(22) de Oliveira, Ana Paula et al. “Effect of semisolid formulation of persea americana mill (avocado) oil on wound healing in rats.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM. 2013.

(23) Jadoon, Saima et al. “Anti-Aging Potential of Phytoextract Loaded-Pharmaceutical Creams for Human Skin Cell Longevity.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity. 2015.

(24) Gęgotek, Agnieszka et al. “The Effect of Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.) Seed Oil on UV-Induced Changes in Lipid Metabolism of Human Skin Cells.” Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland). 2018.

(25) Scapagnini G, Davinelli S, Di Renzo L, et al. “Cocoa bioactive compounds: significance and potential for the maintenance of skin health.” Nutrients. 2014

(26) Ranzato, Elia et al. “Wound healing properties of jojoba liquid wax: an in vitro study.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 134,2 (2011): 443-9. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.12.042

(27) Korać, Radava R, and Kapil M Khambholja. “Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation.” Pharmacognosy reviews. 2011.

(28) Environmental Working Group. Suntegrity products on EWG Guide to Sunscreens.” EWG website. Accessed April 24, 2021.

(29) Zhekova, D. & Carhart, R. Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens. Travel+Leisure Magazine online. March 2021.

(30) DERMASCOPE. Dermascope Presents: Winners of the 2021 Aestheticians’ Choice Awards. Dermascope website. Accessed April 24, 2021.

(31) Healing Lifestyles. “2020 Earth Day Beauty Award Winners – Face.” Healing Lifestyles website. 2020.

(32) Devash, M. Best of Beauty 2013: Natural Wonders. Allure website. September 2013.

(33) Oncology Spa Solutions. Mission Partners. Oncology Spa Solutions website. n.d.

(34) Anderson. C. “Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb’s Favorite Things: Suntegrity Moisturizing Sunscreen and Bright Lights Documentary On Today Show.” Candie Anderson website. January 2017.