How to Safely Soak Up the Sun: Choose the Right Sunscreen for You

The sun is finally here in Oregon! And with the blue skies, longer days, higher temperatures and lots and lots of sun, there also comes the risk of sunburns – especially since most of us haven’t seen this much sun in months!


Topical sunscreen is one of the most effective tools you can utilize for skin protection. When choosing sunscreens, an important factor is going to be the active ingredient(s). Sunscreens are categorized in one of two ways: physical or chemical. 


Active ingredients in a chemical sunscreen include oxybenzone or octinoxate, among others.The active ingredient in a physical sunscreen will be a mineral, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These two types of sunscreens work a bit differently to protect us from the sun, but ultimately achieve the same outcome. Some sunscreens may be a combination of the two.  


So which do I choose? Chemical or Physical? Chemical sunscreens should give us some pause as the FDA continues to study the safety of these ingredients; not only for us humans, but it’s effects on our coral reefs as well5–7. The following chemicals which lack sufficient data on their safety include: oxybenzone, avobenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, or octinoxate. Chemicals which are not safe at any levels, and generally not found in sunscreens in the US, include PABA and tolamine salicylate1,2,7,8


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. As a result, many of these chemicals have avoided rigorous research for decades1,9


What we do know is that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are safe and effective so when looking for a sunscreen I would recommend picking a physical sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen. When it comes down to it, it's better to choose the option that we know is safe rather than the unknown, potentially harmful option.......but when it’s a choice between no sunscreen and sunscreen, always be sure to lather up2,4!


Here are a few sunscreens that I have used and really liked. (No personal or business affiliation with any brands listed)



1. Supergoop 100% Mineral Sunscreen Stick


2. Salt & Stone Sunscreen Lotion


3. Skinmedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 35 spray


Have fun this summer and stay safe!


Dr. David Chang ND, LAc



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


Dr. David Chang ND, LAc David Chang, ND, LAc, is a board-licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist with extensive training in Naturopathic primary care and classical Chinese medicine. With more than six years of professional experience and a strong interest in chronic pain management, he is proud to own and operate his practice in Portland, Oregon.

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