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  • Dr. Brittany Long

How to pick the safest and most effective sunscreen!

Now, onto the part you all want to know more about – whether or not to use sunscreen and what types of sunscreen might be the safest and effective. Last week we talked about some methods to help prevent over-sun exposure and those inevitable burns that tend to happen when all us Oregonians get a glimpse of the sun, and just to remind you, here they are again (1,2):

1. Seek shade or make shade when you are going to be outside. Umbrellas, trees or sun sails are all easy options!

2. Always bring a hat and sunglasses with you and wear layers that will cover typically sun-exposed skin; some clothing now even has UV protection built into it.

3. Avoid peak UV hours - getting out a little earlier in the day or going out a little later can make a big difference in regards to how much UV you will be exposed to.

4. Apply sunscreen before going out and remember to re-apply every two hours and even more often if you are in water or sweating (1-4).


As far as sunscreen goes then, there are a lot of different types with different claims, different ingredients and different levels of protection. Commonly sunscreen will have a mix of chemical components, most which are currently being investigated by the FDA for safety in a topical application - you might have also heard of some chemicals as they are the ones that are also damaging our coral reefs (5–7). The following chemicals which do not have sufficient data on their safety include: oxybenzone, avobenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, or octinoxate and the chemicals which are not safe at any levels, and generally not found in sunscreens in the US, include PABA and tolamine salicylate (1,2,7,8).

Though oxybenzone and avobenzone do provide great UV radiation protection, they may not be safe (thus why the FDA is investigating them). Fun fact – when it was determined that UV radiation was correlated with different types of skin cancer and thus sunscreen was developed, there wasn’t any formal testing that was completed and analyzed by the FDA for safety so these chemicals have avoided the research loophole for decades (1,9).


What we do know however is that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are safe and effective so when looking for a sunscreen I would recommend picking one that does not have PABA, tomaline salicylate, oxybenzone, avobenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, or octinoxate and instead has titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as it’s method of skin-protection. When it comes down to it, we don’t know everything there is to know about the safety of more chemically based sunscreens but when it’s a choice between no sunscreen and sunscreen, always be sure to lather up (2,4)!

For a comprehensive source on safe sunscreens check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Safer Sunscreens and Sunscreen Executive Summary!



1. Sunscreen chemical research fails to find harm - The Washington Post. Accessed July 19, 2020.

2. The science of sunscreen - Harvard Health. Accessed July 19, 2020.

3. Mancuso JB, Maruthi R, Wang SQ, Lim HW. Sunscreens: An Update. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2017;18(5):643-650. doi:10.1007/s40257-017-0290-0

4. Young AR, Claveau J, Rossi AB. Ultraviolet radiation and the skin: Photobiology and sunscreen photoprotection. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2017;76(3):S100-S109. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2016.09.038

5. Wang J, Pan L, Wu S, et al. Recent advances on endocrine-disrupting effects of UV filters. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2016;13(8). doi:10.3390/ijerph13080782

6. Adler BL, DeLeo VA. Sunscreen Safety: a Review of Recent Studies on Humans and the Environment. Current Dermatology Reports. 2020;9(1):1-9. doi:10.1007/s13671-020-00284-4

7. Paul SP. Ensuring the Safety of Sunscreens, and Their Efficacy in Preventing Skin Cancers: Challenges and Controversies for Clinicians, Formulators, and Regulators. Frontiers in Medicine. 2019;6:195. doi:10.3389/fmed.2019.00195

8. Yeager DG, Lim HW. What’s New in Photoprotection: A Review of New Concepts and Controversies. Dermatologic Clinics. 2019;37(2):149-157. doi:10.1016/j.det.2018.11.003

9. Latha MS, Martis J, Shobha V, et al. Sunscreening agents: A review. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2013;6(1):16-26. Accessed July 19, 2020. /pmc/articles/PMC3543289/?report=abstract

*DISCLAIMER: This document is not intended to treat or diagnose disease. Before implementing any new treatment protocols be sure to consult with a licensed physician. The author has nothing to disclose in regards to supplements or products mentioned within this document and the author does not receive any monetary or other incentive to mention the recommended supplements or products.

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