Why You Shouldn’t Use Conventional Sunscreen (And What to do Instead)


This post was originally published in July of 2014. It has since been updated and re-purposed.
I used to spend a LOT of time in the sun. Between competitive swimming and water polo in high school, life guarding nearly every summer as a teenager, and years of shameless sun bathing in an all-out effort to become the darkest version of myself possible, I’ve definitely had more than my fair share of sun exposure.

Looking back on my years of reckless sun worshiping, I kick myself. Not just for spending more than a healthy amount of time in the sun, but more so for not paying any attention to all of the dangerous chemicals that I regularly applied to my body and face (thinking it was the healthy thing to do).

I’m talking about harsh acne creams, unnatural tanning oils, and…dun dun dun — sunscreen.

“But you NEED sunscreen! Without it, you’ll get skin cancer and die!”

That’s what I thought too. So I spent the majority of my life covering myself in misty clouds of chemical-laden aerosol sunscreen spray in an effort to prevent sun damage and skin cancer.

Back then, I had no idea that everything I had been told about sunscreen and sun exposure was wrong.

All of us have bought into the anti-sun hype at some point or in some way. We’ve been religiously slathering on the ‘screen and spending more time indoors than ever before, yet skin cancer rates continue to skyrocket.

We live in a society that’s civilized beyond common sense. And instead of taking a reasonable and sane approach to subjects like food, medicine, and sun exposure, we rely on quick fixes and listen to what “experts” say we should do to be healthy without ever digging any deeper or figuring out what our bodies intuitively need.

Many of these quick fixes have been created with a greater interest in our bank accounts than in our health. And they just can’t compete with a good ol’ fashioned natural approach to health and wellness.

Conventional sunscreen is one of the quick fixes I’m talking about. It really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it’s a lot worse (and more dangerous) than it’s cracked up to be. Here’s why:

  • Sunlight is good for you (in moderation). Unprotected sun exposure stimulates Vitamin D production within the body. Vitamin D is a big deal. Trust me — you don’t want to be deficient. Sunscreen blocks the UVB rays that are responsible for stimulating Vitamin D production. Constant use of sunscreen = not enough Vitamin D.
  • No sunburn DOES NOT = no sun damage. As I wrote in a recent post, “Sunscreen is great at blocking the UVB rays that cause us to burn (and produce cancer-fighting Vitamin D). But it does almost nothing to protect against the UVA rays that penetrate much deeper than UVB rays, damaging skin cell membranes and the DNA inside.”
  • Conventional sunscreen is not safe. It contains a number of harsh, hormone disrupting and cancer-causing ingredients that we thoughtlessly slather all over the largest organ on our body before venturing out into the sun. And ingredients like Oxybenzone, Retinyl Palmitate, and Titanium Oxide aren’t the only culprits. According to Chris Kresser,

    For one sunscreen that was analyzed for aluminum concentration, a single application would provide 200mg of aluminum. (1) Another concern is that, as an oxidant, the aluminum in sunscreen might contribute to oxidative damage in the skin, increasing the risk of cancer.

Sunshine is indeed a wonderful thing, but too much of it can also be damaging.

We all have occasions that require us to spend prolonged amounts of time in the sun. And when covering up or finding shade isn’t an option, using a product that offers sun protection is definitely the way to go.

You might be confused (and rightfully so), as I just finished pointing out the dangers of conventional sunscreen. The important word here is conventional (Banana Boat, Coppertone, Bullfrog — I’m talking to you)!

But not all sunscreen is bad.

Sunscreens made from natural, non-toxic ingredients that use non-nano Zinc Oxide as the main active ingredient can be a great option for days when we spend long periods of time in the sun.

Non-nano Zinc Oxide protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Non-nano (or non-micronized) means that the particles are too large to be absorbed by the skin. Because of the large particles, sunscreens with non-nano zinc oxide may leave a slight whitish film on the skin. And since the large particles sit on the skin and aren’t absorbed, they do a much better job of protecting against UVA and UVB rays than products that contain nano particles.

A few years ago, I started making and using my own sun lotion with only a few simple and effective ingredients (coconut oil, mango butter, shea butter, non-nano zinc oxide, arrowroot powder, beeswax and essential oils). And after a lot of prodding and encouraging from my husband and other family members, I finally started selling it (along with a number of other products) on our family farm’s website (you can check out Primally PURE Outdoor Lotion and the rest of the Primally PURE line by clicking here).

Of course, you don’t have to buy my products in order to get adequate protection. You can also purchase non-nano zinc oxide and add it to your favorite lotion or creme. Or experiment with making your own using some or more of the ingredients listed in the paragraph above!

But if you don’t want to deal with the hassle and uncertainty of doing it yourself and want a silky smooth product that’s made with organic and fair trade ingredients (and lots of love) I would highly recommend checking out Primally PURE Outdoor Lotion.

Have you tried making your own sunscreen? Or do you already have one that you love? Let me know with a comment!


  1. Joyce says

    Thanks Bethany! This is super useful info! Can’t wait it make my own sunscreen! As a blue eyed redhead, I have done a LOT of damage to my skin (in my younger years). So excited to have a truly natural sunscreen!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Thanks Joyce! :) Sorry I missed you on this last visit. Will you be in our neck of the woods again anytime soon? I’ll add this to the long list of goodies that I need to make for you!

  2. says

    LOVE!!! Missed this post back in June so I’m glad you reposted! I’ve never been a fan of sunscreen but I have friends who slather it on ….I’m sharing this on my personal fb and Cocos Paleo Kitchen fb page!! And tho I don’t usually use sunscreen, I know it’s important to protect so I need to grab some of yours :) Thx for all you’re doing Bethany!!

  3. says

    Bethany, I just discovered your website and LOVE it! So happy that you are speaking out about the whole sunscreen thing. Makes me crazy when I see parents chasing after their kids with chemical sprays, and even crazier when some of the spray lands on me! I typically avoid sunscreen, choosing to move out of the sun if/when I feel like I’m getting too much. If I do use it I use non-nano zinc oxide. I’ve been using Annmarie Gianni’s SunLove on my face. Anxious to try yours too!

  4. mia says

    awesome! thanks for informing me since i’m one to put sunblock on everyday, even when it’s overcast. Question, is it waterproof? Would you still recommend this when swimming?


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