The Top 3 Things You Need To Know To Choose A Safe Sunscreen

Robin Berzin, MD
July 15, 2015

You may think you’re making the right choice by using sunscreen all summer long – but the unfortunate fact is that many sunscreens are potentially more harmful than they are protective.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use sunscreen, but it does mean you need to be a savvy shopper and choose a safe sunscreen. Using the Environmental Working Group’s excellent research as a guide, we compiled the top 3 ingredients you should avoid when choosing a sunscreen.

1. Oxybenzone

This chemical is a common sunscreen ingredient found in most popular non-mineral sunscreen products out there. However, it is toxic and should be avoided. Studies have shown that Oxybenzone is a hormone disruptor – it acts like estrogen in the body and has been linked to endometriosis in women.

In animal studies, it was shown to alter sperm production. It is shown to also have a high rate of allergic reaction. Additional potentially harmful chemicals with similar risk profiles that are commonly used in sunscreen include octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and parabens.

It’s worth it to take a moment to read the label and avoid these options.

2. Vitamin A (aka retinyl palmitate or retinol):

Increasingly, data has shown that using sunscreens containing Vitamin A accelerates the growth of lesions and tumors. Vitamin A is often added to creams and night lotions for anti-aging benefits, and it appears to be safer when used in this way, away from sun exposure.

3. High SPF, anything above 50+:

There are UVB rays, which burn the skin, and UVA rays which penetrate deeper into the body, accelerating the aging of skin, and contributing to skin cancer. SPF, aka Sun Protection Factor, only protects us against UVB rays not UVA rays, so they protect us from getting burned but don’t protect us from deeper damage from the sun. SPF’s above 50+ give people a false sense of security, which tends to lead to less reapplication and increased risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

So, what’s a sun worshipper to do?

Look for more safe sunscreens made with less toxic ingredients, specifically zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – these two are not absorbed into the skin so they are safer to apply. They also provide both UVB and UVA protection for more complete protection than their toxic counterparts.

We checked in with our friends at CAP Beauty , an NYC based shop carrying all natural and non-toxic skincare, makeup and sunscreen, who shared their favorite sunscreens to suit a variety of occasions. (Fun fact: Parsley Health members get 20% off at Cap Beauty and many of our other favorite wellness partners.)

Cap Beauty recommends:

  • Keys Solar RX (great for daily wear in the city)
  • Surf Mud (for face/hair, great for the beach)
  • Eco Formula (for face and body, great for the beach, created by a lifeguard)

If you’re looking to pick-up a non-toxic sunscreen from the health food or drug store, Dr. Berzin recommends Alba Botanica’s products. We like the sport  and facial  styles.

Wondering how your current sunscreen sizes up? Check out EWG’s Skin Deep app to see how it scores.

This summer we encourage you to arm yourself with sunscreen that will allow you to achieve that summer glow in a clean, non-toxic way.

Robin Berzin, MD

Dr. Robin Berzin is the Founder and CEO of Parsley Health, America's leading holistic medical practice designed to help women overcome chronic conditions. She founded Parsley to address the rising tide of chronic disease in America through personalized holistic medicine that puts food, lifestyle, and proactive diagnostic testing on the prescription pad next to medications. Since founding Parsley in 2016, Dr. Berzin has seen 80% of patients improve or resolve their chronic conditions within their first year of care, demonstrating the life-changing value of making modern holistic medicine accessible to everyone, anywhere. Parsley is available online nationwide.

Dr. Berzin attended medical school at Columbia University and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Her book, Prescription for Happiness: How to Eat, Move, and Supplement for Peak Mental Health, was published by Simon Element in January 2022.

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