The Straight Facts on Sunscreen

Here we are again, the time of year most of us wait for…those hot, hazy days of summer.  While summer brings us so much joy, it also comes with one of the most controversial topics….Sunscreen.

The incidence of skin cancer, and sun related skin damage is very real and also very preventable. It is important to understand what to look for as it will become apparent that all sunscreens are not created equal.  In this article, I hope to clear up some of the confusion around sunscreen and give you tools to help protect you and your family.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor)

SPF is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin.

As a general rule, if it takes you 20minutes for your unprotected skin to turn pink, then you take 20min and times by SPF 15, which gives you about 5 hours of protection.

Here is another way to look at it:

  • SPF 15 blocks approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays.
  • SPF 30 blocks 97 percent; and
  • SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.

They may seem like negligible differences, but if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference. And as you can see, no sunscreen can block all UV rays. (skin cancer foundation website, 2009)

Problems With This Model

  1. Because of stability issues, no sunscreen should be expected to work for more than 2 hours without reapplication
  2. Reddening indicates the damage from UVB rays, but doesn’t tell you about the damaging effects of the deeper penetrating UVA rays. Plenty of damage can be done to the skin without it ever turning pink or red

It is important that you use at least SPF 15, and preferably SPF 30.  Many sunscreens are now coming out with SPF 55-100 however most of these block just 1-2% more sunburn (UVB) radiation than an SPF 30 sunscreen and aren’t required to block UVA. Compared to an SPF 30 sunscreen, they also require 2-3 times more active ingredients, many of which absorb into the body.

Many all-day moisturizers advertise SPF protection, but 1 in 5 offer little protection from harmful UVA rays.  A surprising new government report attributes an increasing incidence of malignant melanoma among people who work indoors from UVA rays shining through windows onto unprotected skin (Godar 2009).


UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply and are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other effects of photo aging.  They also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and a growing number of studies are showing that they are being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own.

Most sunscreens protect from UVB sunburn radiation, and far fewer brands protect against UVA rays. Currently, there are no FDA regulations for UVA protection in suncreens.  The good news is that in the last couple of years, the number of manufacturers adding UVA protection to their sunscreen has increased.

Here are the current UVA filters approved by the FDA:

  • Avobenzone
  • Mexoryl
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • Zinc

It is important to make sure that in addition to a higher SPF (which will protect from UVB radiation) that your sunscreen is also protecting you from these harmful UVA rays.

Most active ingredients in sunscreen work by absorbing the suns energy, breaking it apart and releasing that energy to react with other chemicals in the sunscreen or kicking off free radicals. Some active ingredients are more stable than others, but nearly all break down to some extent in the sun.  In fact, it has been shown that many ingredients break down in the sun in a matter of minutes or hours causing UV radiation to be exposed to skin. Many products on the market contain ingredients that may be unstable alone, or in combination with other ingredients in the product.

Instead of absorbing the suns energy, the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide actually reflect or scatter the sunlight making it a more stable choice.  Because they are white earth minerals, the sunscreens tend to be more opaque and white in appearance instead of clear.  Little to no amounts of zinc or titanium dioxide are absorbed into the skin making them safer choices than some of the other UVA filters.

Environmental Working Group “found that consumers using sunscreens without zinc and titanium would be exposed to an average of 20% more UVA radiation — with increased risks for UVA-induced skin damage, premature aging, wrinkling, and UV-induced immune system damage — than consumers using zinc- and titanium-based products. Sunscreens without zinc or titanium contain an average of 4 times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more)” (EWG 2007).

Toxic Ingredients

Sunscreen is known to contain active metabolites that are readily absorbed by the body and are known to cause many toxic side effects in the system.

Here are a few of the most common toxic ingredients in the most common and popular sunscreens on the market:

Oxybenzone – This is now the most common active ingredient in sunscreen since PABA was discontinued.

It is known to cause:

  • high absorption through skin
  • high rates of allergic reactions
  • growing concerns about hormone disruption

Octinoxate (octyl methyoxycinnamate)

It is known to cause:

  • sensitize skin
  • Estrogenic effects are noted in laboratory animals
  • disruption of thyroid hormone and brain signaling.

Paba ester/octyl dimethyl paba – A derivative of the once popular PABA.

It is known to cause:

  • this chemical releases free radicals
  • damages DNA
  • estrogenic activity
  • allergic reactions in some people.

What to Look for in a Sunscreen

  1. SPF 30 to 45
  2. Doesn’t contain the toxic ingredients
  3. The sunscreen has been tested for stability of ingredients
  4. Contains UVA protectants like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide

What Is the Best

After much research on this, I believe that Badger Sunscreen is the best and meets all of these requirements. Because of the zinc and titanium dioxide which are natural inert white compounds, this sunscreen tends to go on very thick and often white. While badger still does this, I find it goes on better than most.

Even many of the natural sunscreens on the market contain these toxic active ingredients, which is why for your convenience we are selling Badger in our clinic this summer.

To see how your sunscreen matches up, please visit

Sun Safety

In addition to wearing sunscreen, please also follow these important guidelines:

  1. Avoid sun during peak times of 11-3pm
  2. Wear a hat and UVA/UVB protective eye wear
  3. Take extra care of children
  4. Wear sunscreen at all times even in the shade as up to 40% of the UV radiation can reach the earth on a completely cloudy day
  5. Apply sunscreen 30min before going into the sun and then every 2 hours after that (regardless of SPF)

Much of the information in the article was from Please visit this site for more information.