Why you should NEVER use Chemical Sunscreens

Jody Hollis

/ Health & Wellness

Do you need to be educated on SUNSCREEN? I sure did! It wasn’t until I starting selling Beautycounter (Beautycounter.com/jodyhollis) that I actually did some research into sunscreens. I am hoping with this post you will understand the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens and why SPF over 30 is not only useless but might be more damaging to our health.

The information below is from a mom, Katie Kimball, who’s family has tested and reviewed over 80 mineral sunscreens. After seeing her video on Fox news I went right to her blog as I knew she had done her homework. 

Her blog is fantastic with so much real-life information on topics like – living green, food for your family, recipes and kid’s cooking ideas. Check her out.



Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen: Read the Active Ingredients

The major difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens is that mineral active ingredients are inorganic and sit on the surface of the skin. The active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Chemical based sunscreens must be absorbed into the skin to be effective via a chemical reaction with the UV rays. Ingredients vary widely, as does their safety. (See my Food for Thought article on sunscreen safety and cancer.)

Why You Must Switch to Zinc Oxide Based Sunscreens

Here’s the deal – you’re probably wearing sunscreen to prevent two things:

  1. Sunburn
  2. Skin Cancer

What if I told you that all the popular sunscreens out there are rarely preventing EITHER?

Here’s how most sunscreen works: The chemical active ingredients in most sunscreens biodegrade via chemical reactions with the sun itself – in the processing of absorbing the rays they’re protecting your skin from, they’re becoming more and more ineffective.

THAT’S why we’re told to reapply every few hours, because the sunscreen has literally broken down and is no longer doing its job. In contrast, zinc oxide is a mineral, and it’s not going to break down or become ineffective – ever.

It gets worse: The byproducts of the chemical reaction between your sunscreen and the sun are called free radicals. Heard of them before? They cause cancer. And they’re being given off by the cream you just applied in hopes of…preventing cancer. You see how this quickly becomes counter-productive.

The sunscreen has also been absorbed into your skin, and the research hasn’t proven it yet, but it’s possible that free radicals bouncing around beneath the skin are even more harmful than those generated by sun exposure and certainly more dangerous than the byproduct of zinc oxide + sun, which is heat.

A 2007 review in the Lancet even suggested that chemical sunscreens may increase predictors of melanoma and reported that “a recent systematic review failed to show a beneficial effect in preventing malignant melanomas by sunscreens.” (Lautenschlager, Wulf, Pittelkow; The Lancet 2007: Photoprotection)

Let’s get this quite clear: Not only are conventional, chemical sunscreens not proven to protect against the worst skin cancer, but they may CAUSE cancer themselves! And they lose effectiveness against sunburn after just a few hours in the sun.

Why are we putting this on and rubbing it into our skin, our largest organ that absorbs readily and impacts our health?

Perhaps it’s because we’d like a little more estrogen in our system.


That’s right – when I interviewed this Stanford-trained biochemist, he explained that “one application of conventional sunscreen on a bikini-clad woman is equal to daily hormonal therapy for menopause.”

That may be because some sunscreens use parabens as a preservative, known endocrine disruptors that mimic hormones in our bodies. Not all sunscreens contain parabens though. Some of the chemical constituents are also endocrine disruptors. (Sources: 1, 2, 3)

In a world where some fish are born with both male and female parts and human infertility feels rampant, this isn’t something to mess around with. By the way, did I mention that sunscreen ingredients have “environmental persistence,” meaning that they stay around in nature for a long, long time? The only sunscreens rated “reef safe” are mineral options, so if you care about animals, quit letting chemical sunscreens wash off your skin into our waterways.

People, too – synthetic hormones canNOT be filtered out of drinking water even by the best filters, so what you choose to wear to protect yourself from the sun will also affect MY kids.

Let’s find some sun protection with clean, safe ingredients.

Research tells us that “SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent” of the UVB rays from our skin. (sources: skincancer.org and The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology)

The FDA is proposing to cap SPFs at 50, and this doc at WebMD even says anything over SPF 45 is “silly” and recommends SPF 30 to patients.

Are you a video person?

The Balance Between Safe Active Ingredients and Antioxidants

Even zinc oxide and titanium dioxide create free radicals when they interact with the sun to protect your skin from a sunburn. It’s safer because they sit on your skin instead of being absorbed down into your skin, but it is still a problem.

Any sunscreen worth its salt needs to include antioxidant ingredients to combat the free radicals. (Godic, Poljsak, Adamic, Dahmane; Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2014)

Some examples include olive oil, sunflower oil, Vitamin E, sea buckthorn oil, green tea, and many more.

This is why I don’t really mess with making my own sunscreen. I’m not a real DIY person outside of the kitchen and basic cleaners, but also I wouldn’t want to worry about finding the balance between the best amount of zinc oxide and the right antioxidants. PLUS there’s an issue of blending the zinc powder evenly enough that each application is as protective as the rest.

It’s easy to tell if your homemade sunscreen is effective to protect from sunburn, but much harder to tell if it’s still allowing (or causing) future health problems. Antioxidant ingredients are something to keep your eyes open for when you buy a natural sunscreen.

What is a Nano-Particle, Anyway?

Another issue with mineral sunscreens that is quite a big deal is the size of the zinc oxide itself.

Zinc oxide is a white powder, and it takes quite a bit of it to get an SPF of 30 or above. Because it sits on the surface of the skin, zinc oxide sunscreens by their nature are going to make the user look pasty and white.

Manufacturers do their best to try to integrate the white powder into lotions and creams to minimize the whiteness on the skin, and one way they’ve tried to make a better aesthetic product is by reducing the size of the zinc oxide at a micro level.

A “nano particle” is a particle smaller than 100 nanometers, or 100 billionths of a meter. The problem with these nano-sized particles of minerals in sunscreen is that they are small enough to seep into the skin, causing similar problems, potentially, as the chemical sunscreens. Reducing the size of the particle also changes the way they absorb the UVA and UVB rays which alters the potential effectiveness against sun damage. (Moyal, The development of efficient sunscreens, Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, 2012, Vol. 78)

The FDA, on the other hand, maintains that there is no threat from nanoparticles:

Woodcock said animal tests done by the FDA found no evidence that sunscreens that contain nanoparticles of ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide pose a threat.

“We found the particles do not penetrate the skin,” Woodcock said, “If we were to determine any active ingredient does not meet safety standards for drugs, the FDA will notify the public and remove them promptly.”

And the FDA intends to study whether aerosol sunscreens offer adequate protection and whether inhaling the product poses any safety concerns.

These products are often used on children because they are easier to apply. Woodcock said until then, parents should ensure that children hold their breath while the sunscreen is being sprayed.


MSNBCIt’s a debated issue, but I feel safer with brands that choose not to use nano particles. “Micronized” mineral particles are smaller than regular zinc oxide, but not small enough to impact your cells, just small enough to go on smoothly instead of literally gritty, like sand.

More on nano particles in my post on the best sunscreens for infants.