Skincare · Travel

Safer Sunscreen: How to avoid the lobster look while staying safe in the sun

Safer Sunscreen

Question: Is it considered success or failure to come home from four days in Florida without much of a tan?

Though we may have attracted a few photons during our trip, my husband and I are still relatively pasty. Safe sun strategy for the win!

No, we didn’t stay inside the whole time. Here’s what we did to avoid getting burned:

  1. We bought super-cool-touristy-rash-guard-style swim shirts at the grocery store. #classy We wore them while snorkeling and kayaking to reduce the amount of sunscreen we needed.
  2. We sought shade when it was available, and we didn’t just lay on the beach in the sun. Honestly, it was way too hot for that! We were in the shade or in the water for the most part. Hooray for beachside tiki huts! #cheers
  3. I used antioxidant oils on my face at night to combat any free radical sun damage that may have snuck through. Antioxidants can neutralize reactive oxygen species—a main mechanism of sun damage—and reduce the resulting oxidative damage to skin cells.
  4. We applied reef- and people-safe sunscreens when we would be out longer than a few minutes.

Wait, what? Hold the phone. Some sunscreens aren’t safe?

I hate to burst your beach ball, but yep.

Did you hear about the recent sunscreen ban in Hawaii? The sale of oxybenzone and octinoxate (two VERY common sunscreens) will be prohibited by law because of their possible contribution to coral reef bleaching (death).

Ok. I’m on board. Save the reefs, that’s a big deal. Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreens end up in coral reefs each year. Whoa.

What I don’t understand is why we don’t make a bigger deal about saving the PEOPLE, too.

Oxybenzone is a known human allergen and endocrine disrupter.

What’s an endocrine disrupter, you may ask? An endocrine disrupter is a substance that interferes with normal hormone regulation.

Oxybenzone acts as a weak estrogen and a potent anti-androgen (works against hormones like testosterone).


Now I’m not about to tell you that you shouldn’t ever use sunscreen, nor am I going to tell you to stay out of any sun ever.

We need sun. I crave sun. My vitamin D levels will tell you that a little sun is beneficial for me. Research will tell you that vitamin D levels should be optimized in autoimmunity.

In this case, it really does seem to be about balance.

How to achieve that balance:

  • Know yourself. Get 15 minutes of sun on bare skin daily (when you can, that’s not going to happen most of the year where I live), but also know your own skin’s limits. I may be freckly, but I don’t burn nearly as easily as some people with fair skin and freckles. #imlookingatyougingers
  • After that individualized time limit, use a safe sunscreen. I’ll list my faves below…
  • If you have an autoimmune condition, have a practitioner run a vitamin D test. While there is still a lot to learn about testing and optimal levels, there is research to support a correlation between deficiency and autoimmunity. I, personally, notice a huge difference in how I feel if I don’t supplement, even in the summer. Lesson learned.

So, what do I slather on my body if “normal” sunscreens can be so unsafe?

The safest option seems to be mineral sunscreen, preferably non-nano zinc oxide, with titanium dioxide coming in second for safety.

I’ve had so many questions about brands and sourcing this summer, so here’s the lowdown:

  1. Beautycounter’s Countersun sunscreen

I tried the air-propelled SPRAY for the first time while we were in Florida, and I think it just might change my life! (Or at least my opinion of spray sunscreens.) For having NO aerosol propellant, it sprays evenly and nicely. My husband did a sunscreen spray-painting demonstration in the beach parking lot, and even he gave it a positive review, both for ease of application and effectiveness. (On his legs that hadn’t seen the light of day in approximately a decade.)

I would have taken a better pic, but the beach was waiting…

It rubs in well and doesn’t leave much of a residue, if any. Granted, I might be blinding people with my glowing paleness either way. We used it several times in the July Florida sun and did not burn, though we were pretty vigilant about reapplying.

I can’t wait to try it on wiggly kiddos. Countersun also comes in a lotion and a face stick, great for squirmy faces!

P.S. The stick actually smells really good, but with no ambiguous “fragrance” added. Hint: that word can mean basically anything.

  1. Badger brand*

I bought a supply of Badger lotion and sticks at the beginning of the summer. I like that it uses very simple ingredients and is effective. It was the first brand I’d found that results in ZERO reaction with my son’s eczema-prone skin. Huzzah!

I may buy more for him when it’s time, but I’ll probably be springing for Beautycounter for the rest of us. Why? It’s like spreading paste. All over your body. #mamaaintgottimeforthat

The consistency wouldn’t matter that much if it didn’t play heavily into the time it takes to slather it on. I count on an extra half hour before we go to the beach because I’m slow.

  1. Goddess Garden*

I used this for a couple years before I started using Badger. It did aggravate eczema a bit, presumably because it contains coconut oil. Coconut oil is great for some people, but it can be ultimately drying or comedogenic (pore clogging) for some. Because it can mess with the lipid layer of the skin, people with eczema may want to choose an alternative fat like shea or cocoa butter. More on that later.

  1. Mineral Fusion SPF 40 moisturizer*


This one contains two mineral-based sunscreen ingredients, both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. While zinc seems to be the safest, I don’t have a problem using titanium dioxide if:

  • I need some extra oomph to be in a lot of sun
  • There’s no chance of inhalation (such as with a spray)
  • It’s non-nano (bigger particles)
  • I only use it occasionally

This one is great for my face when I know I’ll be outside a lot. It goes on well under makeup. I feel like it offers great protection and have never gotten burned with it on.

  1. Dew Skin tinted moisturizer

THIS is what I use pretty much every day. The zinc-based SPF 20 tinted moisturizer gives me just enough buildable coverage and sun protection. I love how it doesn’t look like foundation, but it evens out my skin and gives a nice, dewy finish. (Hence, the name.) It’s one of my favorite Beautycounter finds so far!


People seem to have a love/hate relationship with mineral sunscreen. Anything to add? Products to try? Products to avoid?

Save the Reef! Save the People!


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