Sun Safety: How to Choose a Low Risk Sunscreen

If you’re like me, the moment the sun finally makes its long-awaited debut you just want to spend all day soaking it in. I’m sure many Canadians feel the same way, as we only have a few short months of summer so the opportunity to take advantage of the sun’s natural source of vitamin D is short lived. The sun allows us to convert vitamin D into it’s active form, which is important for many processes in the body such as calcium absorption in the gut, normal mineralization of bone, immune function and cellular development and growth. Although receiving adequate vitamin D is important, it is crucial to protect our skin from excess UVA/UVB/UVC rays that can contribute to skin cancer and premature aging.  Purchasing a safe sunscreen is just as important as consuming a healthy diet for optimal body functioning, as the skin is our largest organ and the majority of what we apply topically is absorbed into our system. Here are a few ingredients to be aware of when trying to decide which sunscreen will provide adequate ultraviolet protection while minimizing harm this summer:


Many brands use chemical filters to protect against UV rays. However, these ingredients actually penetrate the skin, and therefore are more likely to produce adverse reactions in the body. Some chemical filters have been shown to produce allergic reactions and may potentially interact with hormones. A few examples of common chemical filters that should be avoided include:

Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3) – this is probably the most common UV protectant in popular brands of sunscreen such as Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat. It has been shown to cause photoallergic reactions and penetrates deeply into the skin, increasing it’s potential to disrupt the balance of the body. Environmental Working Group has rated oxybenzone as an 8, as it has high health concerns relating to cellular changes, bioaccumulation and endocrine disruption. It has been detected in the urine and breast milk of people who have applied it topically, and has been found to penetrate the stratum corneum layer of the skin and generate highly reactive oxygen species that can lead to cellular changes.

Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate) – this chemical filter absorbs UVB rays, and like oxybenzone is a common ingredient in many popular brands of sunscreen. It may have effects on estrogen and thyroid hormones which can lead to developmental or reproductive toxicity. Environmental Working Group has rated this chemical a 6, which means there are moderate to high health risks associated with its use.

Other common chemical filters include homosalate, octinosalate and octocrylene which may be harmful, but are rated with a lower risk score than oxybenzone and octinoxate. In general, try to avoid the top two high risk UV protectants, as these are most likely the ones you will find in common brands. Even better, eliminate all chemical filters and use a mineral filter as an alternative!


When trying to avoid harmful chemical filters we still want to ensure the products we are purchasing provide adequate UV protection. Mineral filters are a safe alternative to harmful chemical filters as they do not penetrate the skin and have no evidence of allergic reaction or hormonal disruption. Common mineral filters to look for in a sunscreen include:

Zinc Oxide – this mineral provides excellent UVA and UVB protection and has very limited skin penetration (0.01%), meaning it has very minimal ability to produce harmful systemic effects! Instead, these nanoparticles sit on top of the skin and block or scatter ultraviolet rays to provide safe and effective protection for all ages.

Titanium Dioxide – this is another mineral filter, but is not as common as Zinc Oxide because its  protection against UVA rays is not as strong. However, if you are having a hard time finding a product with zinc oxide, this would be a great alternative and is a lot safer than any chemical filter!


Cover up! – prolonged exposure to UV rays is harmful to the skin, so in order to prevent excess exposure being prepared with a hat and light lightweight long clothing  can be really beneficial, especially for fair-skinned individuals. Remember, repeated exposure to the sun will lead to premature aging as the skin loses it’s ability to repair itself and damage accumulates resulting in wrinkles, sun spots and potentially skin cancer.

Be SPF Smart – ensure you are using a high enough SPF for adequate protection, but higher doesn’t necessarily mean better. Sun Protection Factor is a measurement of the protection from UVB rays which cause sunburn and redness. Many people believe that applying SPF 50 means they can stay out a lot longer before reapplying than with an SPF 30, when in reality this is not true. A sunscreen with SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%.  Therefore, SPF 50 is not overly superior to SPF 30 and can actually increase the chance of burning due to the misconception of time until reapplication is required. In addition, SPF doesn’t block UVA rays which can lead to cellular changes such as skin cancer – so ensure you buy a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that protects you from UVA/UVB rays.

Reapply –  Remember to reapply your sunscreen liberally and frequently, especially after coming out of the water. Although spray sunscreens are quicker and easier, they generally don’t provide as full coverage as a cream sunscreen and spots are often forgotten, leaving areas unprotected and at risk.

In general, the sunscreen you will use is the best sunscreen for you. If you’re not going to use a cream based sunscreen, purchasing a spray or a powder will be more beneficial than avoiding the use of other ones. For people who don’t like the greasy feeling of sunscreen, mineral SPF powders are a great way (especially for the face!) to ensure you are protected in a way that feels comfortable to you. For more information on sun safety and recommendations for safe sunscreens visit Environmental Working Group so you can go out and enjoy the sun this summer while minimizing risks to your health!

Happy Summer!! 🙂

Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor for advice on sun safety and sunscreen protection before changing anything in your daily routine. This information is intended for educational purposes only.



Environmental Working Group

Hanson, Kerry M., Enrico Gratton, and Christopher J. Bardeen. “Sunscreen Enhancement of UV-induced Reactive Oxygen Species in the Skin.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine41.8 (2006): 1205-212. Web.

Jiang, Roberts, Collins, and Benson. “Absorption of Sunscreens across Human Skin: An Evaluation of Commercial Products for Children and Adults.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 48.4 (2001): 635-37. Web.

Klammer, Holger, Christiane Schlecht, Wolfgang Wuttke, and Hubertus Jarry. “Multi-organic Risk Assessment of Estrogenic Properties of Octyl-methoxycinnamate in Vivo.”Toxicology 215.1-2 (2005): 90-96. Web.

Klammer, H., C. Schlecht, W. Wuttke, C. Schmutzler, I. Gotthardt, J. Kohrle, and H. Jarry. “Effects of a 5-day Treatment with the UV-filter Octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC) on the Function of the Hypothalamo-pituitary–thyroid Function in Rats.” Toxicology 238.2-3 (2007): 192-99. Web.

Rodri­guez, Edna, Martha Cecilia Valbuena, Maritza Rey, and Luisa Porras De Quintana. “Causal Agents of Photoallergic Contact Dermatitis Diagnosed in the National Institute of Dermatology of Colombia.” Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine22.4 (2006): 189-92. Web.



One thought on “Sun Safety: How to Choose a Low Risk Sunscreen

  1. I appreciable your work to organizate all these valuable information at one Platform in the most convenient and easiest possible way!!

    Hopeful people will get benefited from these are will admire your work!!

    Thanks you so much to promote naturopathy in the state of student life as its mentioned above!!

    My best wishes for you and keep a beautiful smile with your vast amount of dedicated knowledge!!

    With your smile you can win the patients heart and with your knowledge you can win over his problems!!

    So I think its a perfect combination of Naturopathy doctor with smile!!

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