Sunscreen Recommendations

Alix Knipe interviews Hilary Back, her local naturopathic doctor, about how to choose healthy skin care products and how to protect your kids from the sun.

Our skin is the largest organ of the human body, consisting of about 3 trillion pores, so what we put on our skin is directly absorbed into our bloodstream.

One of the most common products we put on our body is sunscreen and for good reason, as it is one of the most effective protections against sunburns and the development of skin cancer.  Severe sunburns as children have been shown to greatly increase your chances of developing dangerous types of skin cancer. About half of us will be diagnosed with skin cancer before age 60.


There are two general types of sunscreen, chemical and mineral based. Chemical sunscreens use chemicals to block harmful rays, but aren’t as effective as mineral sunscreens, which use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block a larger spectrum of light from the skin. They mask the physical signs of sunburn, but don’t necessarily block the harmful rays of UVA that are associated with melanoma, the most deadly kind of skin cancer.

In addition, chemical sunscreens affect our hormones.  Dr. Back explains, “Many of the chemicals in sunscreens look and act like our natural hormones and disrupt our hormone ratios”.

They also cause problems for our environment. “Everything we put on our body winds up in the water.  It goes to the rivers and eventually to the oceans,” Dr. Back describes.  According to the Environmental Working Group, scientists are pointing to chemical sunscreens to be a large potential factor for the massive coral die off in the last 10 years.

Dr. Back strongly recommends zinc oxide based sunscreens, not only for our own health, but also for the health of our planet.

“What you do now matters.  Everything you put in your mouth and on your body matters. You have to do the best you can with the resources and knowledge you have, while maintaining a balance,” Dr. Back says. “Sometimes it’s a difficult line to walk being a mother, the need for protecting our kids from our toxic world and the need to let them live a ‘normal life’ ”.  Dr. Back’s daughter sits beside us, looking up from her coloring book, and smiles.

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According to Dr. Back, “What you put on your skin affects every cell of your body as if you are eating it. What you put on your body should be as good as the food you eat”.


  • Use natural moisturizers like coconut oil, almond oil, or jojoba. Coconut has a natural SPF of 4-7, which blocks about 20% of suns damaging rays
  • Eat healthy fats. Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, grass fed/pasture raised meats without hormones, and a variety of nuts.  Fats protect your cells and create your hormone
  • Wear protective clothing. Brimmed hats or clothing that has neck and ear protection and a light-weight long sleeved shirt. Have extras in your car and stroller.
  • Use mineral, zinc oxide based sunscreen when protective clothing is not possible.
  • Do not use sunscreen as a reason to prolong your time in the sun or avoid putting on protective clothing.
  • Avoid sunscreen sprays. They are extremely unsafe because the airborne particles are easily inhaled. Sunscreen sticks provide uneven protection.
  • Go outside in the morning and late afternoon when the sun is less intense and seek out shade.
  • Wear sunglasses with UV lenses. But Dr. Back cautions, “Don’t wear sunglasses all the time, because the eyes absorb Vitamin D from sunlight which is good for your eye health”.
  • Get SOME sun.  “Sun on your skin is important, but a little goes a long way”,  she warns. If you are going to be outside for a long hike or at a sunny playground, you should definitely seek protection.
  • If you choose to wear sunscreen everyday, make sure you take a high quality vitamin D3.  Just 20 minutes a day equals 20,000 IU of Vitamin D in the summer.
  • Go to the Environmental Working Group’s website, choose your body care products based on their ratings, and donate!


Hilary Back, ND, LAc is based in Carbondale. She focuses on naturopathic family medicine by supporting healing from the inside out, both in immediate care matters and chronic health concerns.