10 Sunscreen Safety Tips You Need to Know

Sunscreen is a great way to prevent burning and the harmful effects of some UV rays. However, there are some things about sunscreen that you should know before the next time you slather it on.

Here are 10 Super Helpful Sunscreen Safety Tips to help you enjoy the summer sun without getting burned in more than one way.

sunscreen in fingers with text overlay

It's that time of the year -- the sun is coming out, and families are spending more time at the pool, the beach, on vacation, and just outside in general.

Along with more time outdoors comes more time in the sun which can lead to overexposure. As such, sunscreen is a great tool to use, but does it matter what sunscreen you use?

Hint: It does.

When I was young, I was out in the sun WAY too much. I would tan and tan and tan--and as a result spent years where I was really did everything I could to just stay out of the sun completely.

Is the Sun Good for You?

There is some evidence coming out that the sun actually being good for you.

From studies about the sun preventing disease (source) to sun exposure being linked to multiple health benefits (source), it's something to consider.

Now, I'm not advocating slathering a bunch of baby oil on and baking (like someone who will not be named did on occasion [ahem]), but I do think that getting outdoors is great. Personally I try to get out between the hours of 10 and 2 for about 15 minutes every day.

In addition to that, I allow myself to get a little bit of sun (emphasis on "little"), and don't use sunscreen most of the time, especially after I have some color on my skin. However, I for sure don't want to burn, so sunscreen is something I always have around--and you should too.

Following are some things to keep in mind as you spend more time in the summer sun to help you have a healthier sunny summer experience.

pinterest collage for post about sunscreen safety tips

1.  Skip the Spray

While spraying your sunscreen on might seem like a convenient and fun way for your kids (and yourself) to put sun protection on, it might not be the best thing to do for your health--or theirs.

Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are typical physical sunscreen non-toxic ingredients used in sunscreens, and these are considered to be safe when applied to skin, but the inhalation of these ingredients is considered to be a health hazard.

Actually, titanium dioxide has (after the initial publishing of this post) recently been in the news as being not as non-toxic as originally thought. (source)

This post on spray sunscreen dangers gets into more details about the concerns regarding spray sunscreen that will make you think twice about using it, or at least will help you choose and use wisely.

2.  Lower SPF Might Be Better

Did you know that SPF only measures protection from UVB rays - the ones that will cause you to burn?!

It's true!

But the UVA rays are the ones that cause skin cancer and a higher SPF will not give you extra protection from those rays.  You'll be likely tempted to use a high SPF sunscreen, thinking that you can only apply it once and have all the protection you need. Instead, choose a lower SPF with broad spectrum coverage and definitely look to zinc oxide to address UVA rays.

3.  Skip the Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl Palmitate (derived from Vitamin A) is often added to sunscreens to reduce the appearance of aging.  However, it offers no sun protection so it's not really a necessary ingredient at all.

There is some research suggesting a connection between retinyl palmitate and skin cancer in lab tests on mice. Not something I want on my skin!

4. Use Sunscreen When Cloudy

Clouds only block 20% of the sun's rays (and that's not a lot!), so if you are going to be out in the summer, you'll need protection even if it's cloudy.

5.  Repeat Application

The best protection, if you are going to be out in the sun for a long time, is to reapply.  Some say sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours but it definitely needs to be reapplied after swimming, toweling off, showering or strenuous exercise (aka sweating).

6. Apply at Least 15 Minutes Before Going Out

Don't wait until you're in the sun to apply your sunscreen. The sunscreen needs time to sink in or bind to your skin so it can work well.

7. Patch Test

Always do a patch test on the inside of your arm to make sure you aren't sensitive to the ingredients before going out in the sun. The sun's rays might intensify any reaction so better to be safe than sorry!

8. Apply Evenly

Do your best to apply the same thickness all over your body and don't miss "easy to miss" spots like backs of knees, ears, scalp, neck, face. Do skip eyes and lips, however unless your product is specifically meant to go on the lips.

9. Skip Chemical Sunscreens

Instead of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are physical sunblocks, chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate are often the ingredients used in popular brands.

I'm not a fan of those as they have been linked to all kinds of health problems (source). Choosing a physical sunblock like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide is a better choice for many reasons.

10. Choose Reef Safe

Though this isn't directly related to your health, indirectly it is. Choosing a reef safe sunscreen will benefit the environment and our delicate ecosytem and the health of all in the long term so choose better.

Make sure to really read the labels of your sunscreen however, and don't just believe the "reef safe" label. Avoid the above-mentioned chemical sunscreens but also the following ingredients:

  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (acceptable labels should say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and shouldn't be able to rub completely in)
  • Any type of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”

Safe Sunscreen Options

I even tried to made a DIY sunscreen a few years back, but I have also tried a number of safe / non-toxic versions. Following are my thoughts on a few of these.

Homemade Sunscreen

I tried this once and it performed well (as in we didn't burn) but it was a little too thick.

I will have to dig up my recipe at some point and share it, but in the meantime, if you are interested in making your own sunscreen, you can get a recipe or two in this book -- My Buttered Life, from MadeOn that contains great recipes including DIY sunscreen. I plan to tweak mine and get it to be a little thinner so I don't fshoweel so "pastey" with it on.

If you are going to try your hand at making your own, you will need quality zinc oxide. Yes, you will have plenty on hand for the future :).)

Safe Store Bought Sunscreens

Here are some safer sunscreens I recommend.

Beautycounter

I really like Beautycounter's Stick Sunscreen

Beautycounter Mineral Sunscreen Stick

Their lotion performs really well too and has a "just right" texture for easy, even coverage. It's also "1" on EWG's SkinDeep which is the safest rating.

Beautycorner Mineral Sunscreen Lotion

AquaSport

Aquasport sunscreen

I used this one in the past and like it fine--it was the first supposedly non-toxic brand I tried.

It has a low rating on EWG's SkinDeep but please take note of the mixed reviews on Amazon.

Seems like there have been quite a few issues with the texture of the lotion recently, including it being solid mixed with very liquid-ey parts.

Did you know all of these Sunscreen Safety Tips or were some new to you?

Note: This post was originally published in May 2015 but was updated in July 2021 with new information and new images.

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16 Comments

  1. Hi Adrienne,
    Please add your website location/name to your printed recipes like the one I did for Dishwasher rinse aid!! Love the info and have shared it but when printed it only gives the recipes not the "credit". Thanks, Carolyn in Toronto

    1. It should be there now - can you check? Thanks for the suggestion. You mean it was on the rinse aid but not on others?

  2. The FDA suggests that you utilize expansive range sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher, even on shady days. Apply sunscreen generously to all revealed skin, particularly your nose, ears, neck, hands, feet, and lips.

  3. Adrienne and others,

    Do you still find these sunscreens to be the best out there? I've run out of the nontoxic one I've been using and it's no longer manufactured, so I'm now sunscreen shopping and have NO idea what I'm doing 🙂

    TIA!
    Tricia

    1. Hi Tricia. Thanks for reading and for commenting. Yes, I personally use the Beautycounter and Miessence now. I like them both. Beautycounter's is not as thick so I do think you would like it better.

  4. Hi there,
    Love your blog! I very much enjoy reading your articles but could you move the ads and links to the side of the page. They are very distracting and there seems to be plenty of space on the side of the page?
    Thanks so much, Suzan

    1. Hi Suzan - thanks for writing and for your kind words. What links are you referring to please? I am trying to work on the ad situation to figure out a good balance between income and reader's experience and would really appreciate hearing your thoughts. Thanks much,

      Adrienne

  5. I was thinking of trying raspberry seed oil, as I read that it offers both USA and UVB coverage. Have you done any reasearch/ have any insight on that?

    1. Hi Chelsea. I did a little. I read one blog post where the lady said it worked OK but she would not be using it for extended periods of time and this post (excuse the stuff in the sidebar and elsewhere) that states it's nonsense. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2702190/Alert-DIY-organic-sunscreens-oils-Doctors-warn-against-following-nonsense-internet-advice-oils-offer-protection-rating-50.html

      I guess my thoughts at this point would be that even if the raspberry seed oil works as a sunscreen you will spend a fortune on it to cover your body. A 2 oz bottle costs about $20 on Amazon and it appears that there are a bunch of bad reviews and that many of them are filled w/ carrier oils.

      Hope that helps!!

  6. If I can't eat it, I sure don't want it on my skin. Your skin is a sponge and absorbs everything and from there onto your liver and other filtering organs.

  7. Great post, Adrienne! I didn't know the info you shared about spray sunblock. I'll be skipping that from now on!

    1. Thanks, Julie! I had no idea either. In fact, I just sprayed some on myself this past week before writing this and was a little concerned about how much went in the air. Now I know better!