Pretty Informed | How to Choose + Use Safer Sunscreens

how to choose + use natural organic safe sunscreens

Too much sun can cause major damage, but not enough, can cause Vitamin D deficiency (common in Breast Cancer patients)… so what do we do? Well… it’s a delicate balance – as both can result in The Big C.

Lots of people ask what I do + personally, I don’t wear sunscreen on a daily basis or under my makeup. Why? Well, for a few reasons… 1. Because it’s already built into my mineral makeup already! 2. I’m not fair-skinned + don’t burn easily. 3. I’m not usually outside for a prolonged period of time most days. 4. I don’t live on a tropical island (I wish!). 5. I’m a Breast Cancer Survivor who was very deficient in the Sunshine Vitamin (Vitamin D). And, 6. The active ingredients in sunscreen, natural or not – can cause free-radical damage. So, I only slather it on when necessary. If I know I’m gonna be outside for awhile, I don’t rely solely on my makeup – I’ll use it underneath, or instead of makeup!

Regardless of where you stand though, at some point you’re gonna have to use something if you don’t want to fry – so it’s important to choose sun prep products that prevent more damage than they cause.

How to Choose

sunscreen types

Unfortunately, all sunscreens currently on the market in the US (natural or chemical) cause some measure of free-radical damage! In natural sunscreens, it’s caused by the active ingredients. In conventional sunscreens, it’s caused by both the active + inactive ingredients! So natural, physical Sunscreens are always the better choice.

  • Physical Sunscreens – natural, reflect + scatter light.
  • Chemical Sunscreens – non-natural, absorb UV light. 

understanding uv + broad-spectrum

The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 am – 4 pm + at higher elevations, near water (penetrates at least 3 feet) or snow. As a reaction to UV radiation – the amount of brown pigment (melanin) in the skin increases, and is known as a suntan!

  • UVB rays (high midday, low morning and night) help skin produce Vitamin D.
  • UVA rays (during all daylight hours throughout the year) are constant and penetrate skin more deeply, causing more free radical damage.
  • “Broad-Spectrum” protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

 sun protection factor (spf)

The numbers that come after “SPF” on a label only protect from UVB rays, not from UVA rays. Besides the SPF, protection from sunscreen can vary based on:

  • Skin type
  • Time of day your out in the sun
  • Amount + how often applied
  • Activities (sweating, swimming),
  • Amount of sunscreen that has absorbed.

For example, if your skin normally turns pink after 8 minutes of sun, SPF 8 means it will take 8 x’s as long (64 minutes) before that should happen.


The FDA recently mandated sunscreen labeling laws to help consumers better understand what they’re buying, using + what the risks are.

  • The term “Waterproof” is no longer allowed, since no sunscreen product is actually 100% waterproof. “Waterproof” has been replaced by the words “Water-resistant” – meaning that it must provide at least either 40 or 80 minutes of protection.
  • Only SPF 15 or above is able to claim it helps prevent sunburn, but anything over SPF 50, can give you a false sense of protection.
  • Lower than SPF 15, or not Broad Spectrum must use a warning that they have “not been shown to reduce the risks of sun exposure”.
  • Can be labeled as “Broad-spectrum” only if it has passed tests showing it blocks both UVA / UVB.
  • The maximum Amounts of Titanium Dioxide + Zinc Oxide allowed in the US are 25%. Any more is considered misleading, since sunscreen can’t totally block all of the suns rays.

 active ingredients

Choose mineral based ingredients like Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide or a combo of both. Active ingredients are the ingredients that make sunscreen, well- sunscreen + are now required by the FDA to be labeled like drugs.

Titanium Dioxide can protect against UVB + UVA2 rays, while Zinc Oxide is effective against UVB + both types of UVA (UVA1 + UVA2) – so, I’d make sure that Zinc Oxide is in there.

inactive ingredients

Look for products that contain organic or at least natural, plant based ingredients like Carrot Seed Oil, Green Tea, Coconut oil, Olive Oil, Shea Butter, Aloe Vera, Beeswax, etc. Watch out for common, toxic sunscreen ingredients or sun care products that tout plant-based ingredients, but actually contain only the slightest amount. Imagine trying to sell a batch of home-made muffins at a bake sale + advertising that they’re made with salt because the recipe called for a pinch. You can also see a full list of what to avoid in beauty + personal care products here.

what to buy

Most natural sunscreens contain the active ingredients Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide or a combo of both + come in the form of an opaque lotion. They usually use heavy carrier oils to resist being washed off + the ones that contain Zinc Oxide only, tend to have a little less of a white-ish cast to them. Not the most convenient, or the most glamorous – but they’re usually the safest + they are what I use. Check out my list of the Top 20 Brands of Natural + Organic Sunscreens here! 

When shopping, look for…

  • Broad Spectrum protection,
  • Uncoated, non-nano, mineral-based Active Ingredients
  • Natural, plant-based Inactive Ingredients
  • Reef-safe.
 How to Use

How to Apply 

Studies show that we commonly apply only about ½ of the recommended amount to achieve the rated SPF on the label. The recommended dose for the average American (5’4”, 150 lbs.) is about 1 oz. applied evenly to the uncovered body. That’s about 1/3 teaspoon for your face. Sunscreens need to be applied… 

  • 15-30 minutes before sun exposure, thick enough to protect.
  • Reapplied 15-30 minutes after the exposure begins.
  • Further applications are only dependent on activities such as sweating, swimming, etc.


If you think fake-baking is a better option, think again! I used to believe the same thing + worshiped all of it – tanning beds, spray tans + sunless tanning lotions, you name it! Tanning beds have crazy amounts of radiation though + the active ingredients in anything that artificially tans you – creates free radicals on the surface of your skin, especially if you go out in the sun afterwards! So, unfortunately – these are all, also associated with the promotion of Cancer in some form or another too. So, on that note – I’d take real sun any day!

For more info on Sun Safety, check out the EWG’s Smart Sun Campaign!

Do you wear Sunscreen daily? What do you look for in a Safer Sunscreen? 

FTC Disclosure | Products provided. May contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own.
FDA Disclaimer | Statements not evaluated by FDA. Products not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

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  • Reply
    June 11, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Thanks for the great recommendations. I am still looking for my perfect one & there are some on your list I will try, as well as the Thinksport by Livestrong.

    One I liked but recently stopped using is Devita solar body block spf 30 ,as I have always felt I got too much color & not enough sun blocking from it, even seeing a tan line when I took off my watch. I kept using it though as I love how it rubs in clear, no smell, good price, good company, but have decided I need to find something that gives me better protection. I have previously found a few on line blogs talking specifically about this issue of people getting sun burns & lots of coloring while wearing this. If something ever changed in their formula to give better protection, I would buy it again, but need to move on for now.

  • Reply
    November 10, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Thank you Danielle, for explaining all the in’s and out’s of sunscreen. I was visiting a relative out of state, purchased 2 tubes of SPF 70 product. After being diagnosed with malignant melanoma, I started to use it daily. The only problem was a stinging sensation on my face, which lasted for about 5 minutes. Being in denial, I didn’t want to check each and every ingredient sitting at my computer. After finding your article, I will!

    You never think that skin cancer will happen to you, but it does! It’s changed my entire life; my diet and especially how I view all lotions and cosmetics. A small melanoma about the size of less than one half of a pencil eraser has left me with a 4 inch scar where it was surgically removed. Skin cancer is serious and everyone needs to start getting educated on how to protect themselves. You’ve provided a great service. Thanks again.

    • Reply
      November 11, 2014 at 12:44 am

      Thanks Leslie! So glad you found it helpful! Yes, pretty please check the ingredients in your sunscreen, or you can just buy one of the one’s on my 2014 Safer Sunscreen Guide, here – where I’ve already done the homework for you! :) Wishing you the best of luck + sending you happy, healthy vibes! XO <3

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