Sunscreen Can Be Bad for People and Reefs: What We Use Instead

How many times do you slather sunscreen on while you’re at the beach? Heck, sunscreen use has become so prolific we are slathering ourselves with it multiple times a day even in winter when the most light the average American sees is from fluorescent lights. Even with all the sunscreen we put on, skin cancer rates are on the rise. Conventional sunscreens are burning us with limited protection, nasty chemicals, and preventing us from getting needed Vitamin D. What’s in your sunscreen?

The sunscreens commonly sold in the states are full of chemicals that are banned in the sunscreen of Europeans because of their potential risk to humans. Hawaii is trying to ban ingredients in many common conventional sunscreens because they are killing reefs by bleaching them and causing DNA damage at a cellular level.  Does that sound good for anyone? Don’t worry we have some natural and mineral based options we are going to tell you about later.

What kind of chemicals are in sunscreen that you want to avoid?

Like many personal care products, sunscreens contain some pretty nasty chemicals with limited testing. Lack of proof that the chemical harms you, is not proof that the chemical is safe. There are potential endocrine disruptors and chemicals that have been linked to cancer in the majority of sunscreens.

Oxybenzone (also seen on labels as benzophone 3) is one of the chemicals that is getting banned from beaches to protect reefs from DNA damage. It has estrogenic affects on the body and has been connected to low testosterone in men and endometriosis in women. In a 2002 study it was found to linger in the urine for 5 days after use. (1) That indicates the body stores it making the potential affects more likely.  This chemical has also been shown to cause male fish to become female fish. (2) Uh.. no thanks.

Retinyl Palmitate is a form of Vitamin A that is frequently used in cosmetics and can also be found in sunscreens. We apply sunscreen to avoid cancer, right?  In animal studies, this ingredient has been found to speed up the formation of tumors and lesions when applied in the sunlight. (3)  While the usage of this ingredient has gone down it is still found in 14% of sunscreens.

These aren’t the only ingredients you want to avoid. Also, be on the watch for phthalates, parabens, isothiazolinones, pegs, and especially fragrance which can harbor a variety of chemicals. These can be found in many personal care products like shampoo too. This all can be a lot to keep track of and some chemicals go by various names. The Environmental Working Group has a list of safe sunscreens every year or you can use their database to check sunscreens you are considering purchasing.

Burned but Not Red

While many sunscreens protect your skin from UVB rays that keep you from getting red, many do not protect you from UVA rays. UVA rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that can hit your skin and those rays go deep into the body causing damage. Until recently it was thought only UVB rays were responsible for skin cancer but that was wrong. UVA rays can also cause skin cancer. Those who are slathering up in sunscreen not realizing they are not protecting themselves from these rays are probably spending more time than they should in the sun.

A nice thing about zinc oxide, which is an ingredient in many mineral sunscreens, is that it protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. It’s that ingredient that adds the white to the white lifeguard nose. You might look a few shades pasty but it will provide a higher quality of protection. You want the whiteness. Skip the mineral sunscreens made with nanoparticles because those get absorbed through your skin and cause their own problems.

Remember Your Body needs Vitamin D

Across the U.S., there are people who are Vitamin D deficient because of lifestyles that keep us indoors. There are so many benefits to Vitamin D and it is needed to keep people healthy from a wide range of illness.

One of those benefits is the antioxidant potential that can reduce your risk for different types of cancer maybe even the one sunscreen is trying to protect you from. Studies have shown outside workers and those who live in the south have a lower risk of melanoma than the indoor workers and northern counterparts. People who have the potential to get more Vitamin D have lower risks of getting this skin cancer. What does that mean for our sunscreen slathering routines?

When your body is exposed to sunlight it makes Vitamin D and takes that to make a hormone that regulates 1,000 genes in your body. It destroys cancer cells. Studies show just taking a supplement, reduces your risk for cancer and death from cancer. (4) Sunscreen prevents your body from getting the sun it needs to make Vitamin D.

You don’t want to get burned which increases your chance of skin cancer, but you do want to make sure you are getting some Vitamin D. It’s very difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food sources alone. 20 minutes of sun time will help you get the D you need to help protect that body!

Eat Your Sunscreen

You should be able to eat your sunscreen, or you shouldn’t put it on your body, but that’s not what we are talking about here. What you eat can have an impact on how the sun treats your skin. Some foods can increase your likelihood of getting burned and some foods can reduce it.

We recommend a noninflammatory diet for everyone to avoid chronic illness and -BONUS- it will make it harder for you to get burned. Avoid processed sugars, grains, dairy, soy and your allergies. Inflammatory foods leave you more susceptible to disease and to getting burned.

Other foods have components that keep you from getting burned. Omega 3’s are a noninflammatory food found in fish with many protective factors. Resveratrol, in blueberries and red grapes, is an anti-oxidant that neutralizes free radicals and supports cell and tissue health. Coffee and teas have catechins which are antioxidants that also scavenge for and neutralize the free radicals protecting your body from damage. You should also stay hydrated! Aloe juice is full of electrolytes and very good at keeping you hydrated.

What to Do Now

So, we know there are chemicals that are bad for us in the majority of conventional sunscreens that don’t necessarily do a rockstar job of protecting us, and we know we need Vitamin D. We also talked about how you can eat your sunscreen- we know it sounds a little hippie-ish. Try it! It supports overall health and if you can extend your 20 minutes in the sun…. doesn’t that sound nice? The key is – you do not want to get burned.

We know some people who are pretty picky about what they put on their bodies so we asked them what they use. We lucked out with answers from clinics in pretty sunny places!

What’s in Wellness Way Beach Bags?

Eating Sunscreen

Clarice Jones, Social Media Specialist and CA, Maxwell Family Chiropractic- A Wellness Way Affiliate, Columbia, MO If you eat half a cup (give or take) of blueberries a day it helps prevent burning. I haven’t looked into the science as to why it helps, but it does! I rarely need sunscreen, so coconut oil is my only defense usually. To be fair I am pretty pale normally, but I tan easily! My very pale sister does fairly well with this tip, but she doesn’t spend as long a time in the sun.

Make Your Own

Erin Walton, Writer, Pathway To Wellness Enterprises, Remote- Fort Worth, Texas  I found a chart on Pinterest with oils with natural SPF. This was after we found out about a coconut allergy and moved to Texas. I use carrot seed essential oil, shea butter, cacao butter and avocado oil (as needed to thin). It needs a little work to warm up and apply but even protects our fair-skinned, red head in the Texas afternoon sun for a bit of time ☀

Crystal Pranke, Client Training and Development- Pathway To Wellness Enterprises, Green Bay, WI I I love using coconut oil and it’s something I can use every day. I feel comfortable using this as a moisturizer since it has a natural SPF of 4-5 and contains antioxidants that help protect the skin from harmful radiation from the sun. Thanks coconuts!


Jennifer Selle, Media, Pathway To Wellness- Appleton, Appleton, WI I have used the Beautycounter sunscreen. They have a stick that is great for tossing in a bag.

Alba Botanica

Dr. Jacqueline Berens– EnVitality Wellness Center- A Wellness Way Affiliate- Englewood ,CO Being a mile high, sunscreen for Colorado summers is very important! I always want our family to get in our healthy sun exposure without sunscreen which for us is usually 20-30 minutes per day to keep our vitamin D levels up. However, when it comes to extended activities in the sun, like the pool and camping, sunscreen is needed. I check the Environment Working Group’s sunscreen guide each year ( You are looking for a sunscreen rated a 1 or 2 by the EWG and ingredients that you can recognize. Our family favorite for active outdoor activities is Alba Botanica Sport Mineral Sunscreen.

Nancy Gruse, Video Producer, Wellness Way Enterprises, Green Bay, WI  Recently, I went to Hawaii and brought a bottle of Alba Botanical Baby Sunscreen with me. I used this baby sunscreen because my skin is SO white.  I just got back from Hawaii and I’m still pretty pasty.


Dr. Kelvie Culpepper, Poplarville Family Chiropractic- A Wellness Way Affiliate, Poplarville, MS   I tried the LureLux this weekend in Florida and it was no match for the sand and salt water. I reapplied 3 times and still burned. I’m fairly dark complexed too. I love the feel and it has some great ingredients. I think it would be ok for around the house/yard work outside but not lake/beach.

Brianna Simoens, Operations Manager, Wellness Way Enterprises, Green Bay, WI Just found a new one on amazon and used it on our trip to Bahamas. It is AMAZING!! Pricey but worth it- LureLux. I’ve also used Dr. Mercola‘s, but it goes on thick, makes me think it probably blocks a lot of Vitamin D too.


Kayla Schlagel, phlebotomist, Pathway To Wellness- Appleton, Appleton, WI  L’BRI makes a mineral sunscreen that I use on my kids that works pretty well. Only thing I don’t like about it is like every other mineral sunscreen I’ve tried with swimming or heavy perspiration they get chalky white like it wasn’t rubbed in well or something.

Dr. Mercola’s Zinc Oxide

Dr. Ryan Davis and Lindsay Davis, Pathway To Wellness- Largo, Largo, FL  – Years ago, we switched from conventional sunscreens and sprays to Dr. Mercola’s Zinc Oxide. That’s an easy one for starters. Ideally one would just make their own with zinc oxide, coconut oil and an essential oil of their choice!

What If You Do get Burned- Keep this in Your Beach Bag Too!

Silver gel and coconut oil helped this sunburn heal fast. Top Image is of a sunburn and the bottom image is 3 days later after using silver gel and coconut oil.

Amanda Primm Buckner, Office Manager, Miller Family Chiropractic- A Wellness Way Affiliate- Madison, MS  I don’t burn much! I wear a hat to block my face. 😊 But if I do get a little crispy I love aloe, water, with lavender and peppermint oil in a spray bottle and Results RNA gel.

Dr. Kelvie Culpepper, Poplarville Family Chiropractic- A Wellness Way Affiliate, Poplarville, MS  I

used silver gel and coconut oil. I also used Aloe that I broke straight off the plant.

Brianna Simoens, Operations Manager, Wellness Way Enterprises, Green Bay, WI Yep, silver gel and coconut oil is my go to! You can also add some lavender. I’ve also read somewhere that staying hydrated within the body helps heal faster so of course water, but also aloe juice internally!

 We also recommend using apple cider vinegar to help a sunburn heal fast. It helps protect the pH of your skin and is a great vasodilator. Learn more in the article.

Don’t Get Burned

Have you checked your sunscreen yet? Does it have chemicals in it that are putting you and the environment at risk? Just because you don’t have a reef in your backyard doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Those chemicals also disrupt fish hormones and the more sunscreen we slather on the more harmful to us and to them.

You want to feel good about what you put on your body. Your skin is your biggest organ so keep it healthy. Give it some sun and protect it from getting burned. What you put on it can either protect you or damage you. Don’t get burned by conventional sunscreens again.