Staying safe in the sun

The weather is warm, school is out, and summer is upon us. Because of depletion of the ozone layer that protected against harmful radiation in earlier times, today’s sun exposure is not truly natural, and is more damaging. As we plan to spend more time outdoors, we must also avoid excessive sun exposure to protect ourselves from the free radical damage and wrinkling that can ensue and to minimize the risk of skin cancer. First we should be sure to seek shade often, wear protective clothing, and avoid noon time sun. When choosing a sunscreen or sunblock is important to use the safest and most effective methods of sun protection – the SPF number does not tell the whole story.

Exposure to sunlight triggers vitamin D production. However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology there is no safe amount of unprotected UV exposure that can allow for sufficient vitamin D production without increasing the risk of skin cancer. Supplementation is the safest method of maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels.1



Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been steadily on the rise since, its prevalence increasing approximately 2.9% per year since 1981.It is essential to protect your skin from the sun’s rays.

UVA and UVB rays

UVB rays are the rays that cause sunburn. They bind DNA and can cause mutations that lead to skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin, causing oxidative damage that can lead to skin aging and skin cancer.3

Both types of radiation are believed to contribute to melanoma, but many sunscreens block only UVB.

Types of sun protection

  • Sunscreen absorbs and deflects the sun’s rays away from the skin through a chemical reaction. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVB and UVA rays depending on the ingredients used. Common sunscreen ingredients include oxybenzone, octisalate, and avobenzone.
  • Sunblock creates a physical barrier between the UVA and UVB rays and the skin.4 Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the most common sunblocks. Physically blocking sunlight from penetrating the skin is the most effective way to block UVA radiation.

Which type of sun protection is safer? Which is more effective?

Many sunscreens do not protect against UVA rays. The SPF listed on these products refers only to UVB protection. The FDA has no standards for measuring how well a sunscreen blocks UVA rays. Ironically, a product with a high SPF, and no UVA protection, could promote unsafe sun exposure behaviors – you may falsely believe that you can safely stay in the sun longer, overexposing yourself to UVA rays even though you avoid sunburn from the UVB rays.5

The Environmental Working Group reported troubling news about sunscreens: Vitamin A is often listed on sunscreen labels as an antioxidant that can fight skin aging. Vitamin A is an antioxidant, but in isolation it could be dangerous, both in supplements and for the skin. Sunscreens may actually promote the progression skin cancer if they contain vitamin A – vitamin A applied to the skin has been shown by FDA studies to accelerate the growth of skin tumors in animals.6

Sunscreens may also damage your skin. Common sunscreen ingredients can generate free radicals, causing oxidative damage. The sunscreen itself and how often it is applied determines whether it releases or absorbs more free radicals.7

Chemical sunscreen ingredients, including oxybenzone, can potentially disrupt hormonal systems in the body, which could have long-term health implications.8

In addition, a number of studies have linked allergic reactions to chemical sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone.9 Little is known about the potential harm of chronic sunscreen use and the systemically absorbed chemicals deposited after topical application.10

These sunscreen ingredients are potentially harmful and should be avoided:11

  • Oxybenzone (found in 60% of sunscreen products)
  • Octisalate (found in 58% of sunscreen products)
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC; found in 40% of sunscreen products)
  • Padimate O

Mineral sunblocks contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, and these are preferable to chemical sunscreens. These minerals do not penetrate as deeply into the skin as chemical sunscreens. They lie on top of the skin and penetrate only into superficial layers, reflecting UV rays before they cause damage. Mineral sunblocks are the only method of sun protection that blocks UVA rays.

Nanoparticles in sunscreens

There are concerns about certain sunblock products that use small particles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide produced via nanotechnology. The purpose is to make the sunblock more easily absorbed by the skin and therefore more transparent. These tiny nanoparticles, however, can penetrate biological membranes and easily reach cells. Nanoparticles are smaller than anything humans have put into commercial products before.  Preliminary investigations have found only a limited ability of mineral nanoparticles to penetrate the skin12, but oxidative stress and DNA damage to skin cells have been observed. Also, upon inhalation these particles reach the bloodstream and several organs.11,13 Additional studies are needed in order to definitively determine whether these products are safe.

Mineral sunblock is the safest choice.

Overall, the physical sunblocks, with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are the safest choices for sun protection. They are the least irritating, and they safely provide protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays. According to the Environmental Working Group, mineral sunblocks containing nanoparticles are still a safer option than chemical sunscreens. Unfortunately, sunblock labels most often do not disclose whether the product contains nanoparticles. We've done our research and found a product-line which uses nonmicronized zinc oxide that is safe and effective. Our GreenScreen line protects against both UV-A and UV-B without the use of nanoparticles or harmful chemicals.

Remember, sun protection products must be applied liberally to insure you receive the SPF protection claimed on the label. Most people apply 25-75% less sunscreen than the amount used when the manufacturers test their products.14

Make the summer sunshine a safe, fun, and healthy experience for you and your family!

4. Levy S. "Sunscreens and Photoprotection." (accessed June 20, 2007).

5.  Autier P. Sunscreen abuse for intentional sun exposure. Br J Dermatol. 2009 Nov;161 Suppl 3:40-5.

8. Schlumpf M, Schmid P, Durrer S, et al. Endocrine activity and developmental toxicity of cosmetic UV filters--an update. Toxicology. 2004 Dec 1;205(1-2):113-22.

Schlumpf M, Cotton B, Conscience M, et al. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):239-44.

9. Szczurko C, Dompmartin, Michel M, et al. "Photocontact Allergy to Oxybenzone: 10 years of Experience." Photodermatol PhotoimmunolPhotomed 1994;10(4):144-7.

Schauder S, Ippen H. "Contact and Photocontact Sensitivity to Sunscreens: Review of a 15-year Experience and of the Literature." Contact Dermatitis 1997;37(5):221-32.

10. Hayben H, Cameron, M. Roberts H, et al. "Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen after Topical Application." The Lancet 1997;350:9081.

Gustavsson G, Farbrot A, Larko O. "Percutaneous Absorption of Benzophenone-3, a Common Component of Topical Sunscreens." ClinExp Dermatol 2002;27(8):691-4.

11. Environmental Working Group. Nanomaterials and hormone disruptors in sunscreens.

12. Filipe P, Silva JN, Silva R, et al. Stratum corneum is an effective barrier to TiO2 and ZnO nanoparticle percutaneous absorption. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2009;22(5):266-75.

13. Consumer Reports - July 2007 " Nanotechnolody Untold promise, unknown risk."

14. "Sunscreens: Some are short on protection." Consumer Reports July 2007.

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Comments (19) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
kels - July 8, 2010 10:20 AM

I am confused, does anyone have any brands that they would recommend that meet the standards in the post?

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - July 8, 2010 10:28 AM

On Dr. Fuhrman's website, there is GreenScreen, which uses only non-nanoparticle zinc oxide:

You could also check the Environmental Working Group's website for other brands that meet these standards.

Steve - July 8, 2010 1:19 PM

Isn't it true that since sunscreen became popular and used by the masses that skin cancer rates have risen even faster than previously?

Amy - July 8, 2010 1:27 PM

I'm a little disappointed by this post. As an advocate of Dr. Fuhrman's books and websites to my friends and family, I am embarrassed to be recommending what looks a lot like advertising in the form of information. It would have been a more effective article if brand name products other than those sold on Dr. Fuhrman's website had also been recommended.

Paul - July 8, 2010 3:37 PM

The risk of the of the other sunblocks would have been more credible, frankly if they didn't arive at the same time as another Dr. Fuhrman product. I guess I can agree that there may be some risks from the common ingredients found in Neutrogena and other sunblocks. The basic marketing scheme whether its DHA purity, Gentle Care or this product looks like the same to me. Define the problem in a way noone else has considered, indict competitor products, announce the problem and the solution together. If this information was available before now shouldn't it have been presented before July???? As a father whose doing the best he can with his son, I guess I'm wondering why these kinds of pronouncements have to wait until there is a Fuhrman product to address it. I've been using Neutrogena Helioplex having just learned a month or two ago that SPF is UVB only. Now I learn that even though that my son has UVA/UVB protection, some of those ingredients according to Dr. Fuhrman are suspect. Dr. you are a father yourself. If you were on the receiving end, wouldn't you want to know as soon as possible. I think Dr. Fuhrman the doctor and Dr. Furhman the businessman need to have a heart to heart and see whose in charge. For me, and for the overstatement of DHA risk from other algae supplements, no more blind faith. I promise you. I owe that much to my son.


Reg Wilkins - July 8, 2010 3:57 PM

Amy - I partly agree with your post but, to be fair, Deana did make it clear that other brands are available and how to access them.

Sandra - July 8, 2010 6:51 PM

Paul The information regarding the dangers of sunscreens has been out for quite some time. He lists the Environmental Working Group link in whcih you can research any product for its safety and there are many on there that you can use that are safe. If he happens to have a product that works there is nothing wrong in promoting it but there are also other options if you had clicked on the the ewg site.

Amy - July 8, 2010 7:39 PM

Reg -
Maybe my posts reads more harsh than I had meant it to sound. As I said, I am just a little disappointed.

Paul - July 8, 2010 7:48 PM
Sara - July 8, 2010 9:39 PM

Dr Fuhrman has mentioned this information before numerous times. It was not saved until July.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. - July 9, 2010 8:30 AM


I have been discussing and writing about the dangers of conventional sunscreens for years, ( and have researched other sunscreen options for my patients and clients for many years. I carried the Lavera line in the store at for the last few years, so this is nothing new. In the past, Lavera passed our scrutiny and was very highly rated and only contained non-chemical, non-nano-particles. However, recently, to meet European standards, they went back to using some nano-particles in their product (this year) so we were forced to find other brands which did not use nano-particles. I still have the Lavera brand at my house, because last season’s batch is still a great product. Not wanting to take any chances, we started looking for other even better options, as soon as we found out to have the best choices available for our families and web community. In conclusion, I supply my clients and patients with the options, advice and products they require to stay consistent and up-to-date with my scientific brand of natural and nutritional medicine.

By the way, Green Screen (the newest sunscreen we are now carrying) is not a developed Dr. Fuhrman product, it is not packaged and labeled as such, but rather one we identified to use for this purpose. I hope you can have a heart to heart talk with your son and explain that what the rest of the world does, is not necessarily the safest and best for our health future and we have to make an effort to educate ourselves and look deeper into conventional practices. My job is to make that job easier for you, do the research, keep up to date, and give you the same information and ability to raise your family how I raise mine. Neither did I overstate any risk from any algae supplement, I only gave the facts of why I was not satisfied for my clients, patients and family. I look to solve problems with solutions. My reputation, and scientific accuracy is of utmost importance to me. I will even correct, modify or change my mind when better information or more information becomes available. If I ever say or do something that is not accurate, or information changes, I appreciate it if people point it out.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - July 9, 2010 9:03 AM

There were 2 links to EWG's website in the text of the post itself.

Zach - July 9, 2010 2:16 PM

My wife and I looked at that EWG site a month or so ago, and she took the time to create a table of the $$/ounce of the best scoring (1's) mineral sunscreens, and found an absolutely sensational deal on Loving Naturals sunscreen:

We bought a few of them and now we use it exclusively for ourselves and our 2 year old sun in addition to our regular practice of only going to the pool while wearing rash guards (stretchy surfer's shirts - never shown to be carcinogenic!) and outside of peak sunlight hours. Is it inconvenient to take all these steps to be smart about our exposure to the sun? Certainly. Is it worth it? Definitely.

CACC - July 9, 2010 10:40 PM

Thank you for this blog post and for the comments that included links to other information. The number of sunscreen/block products on the market is dizzying, so I appreciate any help weeding through them all.

Drs. Fuhrman and Ferrari -- I bought the Lavera spray off Dr. Fuhrman's website a few weeks ago. Are you saying that this product is no longer safe due to nanoparticles? I have been using it on my 13-month-old son and myself. Thanks for clarifying.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - July 10, 2010 7:40 PM


The Lavera products we currently have in stock do not have nanoparticles, but in their newer products, they have begun to use nanoparticles - we are not stocking these new products. We researched every option in the sunscreen market and came up with GreenScreen (highly rated by EWG, natural ingredients, and no nanoparticles) after exhaustive contact and discussions with each company looking into information on particle size that is not available on EWG or on the web about these products.

CACC - July 14, 2010 4:57 PM

Dr. Ferreri,

Thanks for the response. I'm glad to know I can still use the Lavara I bought. I really appreciate all the research you have put into this.

John Kannenberg - July 28, 2010 7:53 PM

And yet skin cancers are virtually unheard of in the developing world today and were likewise quite rare even in the United States a century ago. And both of the above mentioned societies were/are largely agrarian i.e. They're out-of-doors a lot!
The theory of a depleted ozone layer only covers some of the bases. Diet seems to play a more significant role than previously thought.
A balding 60-year old man of my acquaintance was having 10-20 small melanomas taken off his scalp each year. Then a total switch to a plant-based diet of whole foods. The next year he had less than 10 taken off and none since then.
Emerging science is showing the realities of processed, hydrogenated, adulterated foods and their effects on the whole skin cancer issue.
If we're living healthily, we needn't unnecessarily hide from the sun excessively, nor should we take uncalled-for risks through overexposure. Of course, this is a generalization, and each should fully apply the best science to their own case, as they see fit.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - July 29, 2010 9:14 AM

Yes, certainly diet plays a role in skin cancer protection also, as discussed in this post:

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