June 07, 2012

Sunscreen: Why Must You Suck So?

Well, some people like it.

So summer has begun, and as is traditional this time of year, medical experts put on their stern frowny faces and shake their fingers and very solemnly warn us: Wear Sunscreen! And don't forget to use buckets and buckets of it and reapply every ten minutes! If you don't you'll get cancer and die!

And the beauty experts chime in too: Wear sunscreen because even worse than dying of skin cancer, if you're a woman: you'll end up with a wrinkly face and no one will find you attractive anymore! You'll look OLD, the worst sin you can think of!

While at the same time, scary research studies circulate and advocacy groups tell us: Wait a minute, watch out! The weird chemicals they put in sunscreen makes carcinogenic and it will mess with your endocrine system and who knows what might happen if you give it a few years?


Instead, they say, you should try some Natural Alternative that may not work very well and will turn you all chalky white and freakish-looking five minutes after you apply it.  That's been my experience so far.  But no worries, you probably won't be able to find any of our recommended brands in the grocery store anyway!


A few helpful links? And lots more gripes? Sure, why not!

More Reasons Sunscreen Is Evil

How about the fact that the easiest and best way to get lots of Vitamin D is through sunshine, which is blocked by sunscreen? As it happens, scientists have determined that Vitamin D deficiency is responsible for every medical and mental problem in the history of the world, from multiple sclerosis to Facebook addiction.

And sunscreen is expensive!

Also, it stings when it gets in your eyes!

Plus it's sticky and icky and messy! Especially when you're trying to get the last bit out of the tube and it takes forever and you keep squeezing and squeezing and then all of a sudden a big glop explodes out with a gross wet farting sound and it ends up all over your shirt.

OK, yeah, so talk about your ultimate "first world problem:" worrying that someone mistook your comically clumsy sunscreen application for a digestive problem.

So how do you guys handle this? This year, I'm taking a slightly different approach...

Yep, that would be the illogical, screw-it, I'm tired of thinking about it, I'm gonna do what I whatever I feel like approach.

In fact, this summer I'm listening a little more to the Primal/Paleo folks who shun sunscreen, because I find their arguments against sunscreen extremely convincing convenient!

(In truth I don't really care if our ancient ancestors got a whole crapload of sun and did just fine...because the average cave-person didn't live long enough to worry about skin cancer and wrinkles. But if I do decide to skip the 'screen every now and then, I love having some smarty pants primal folks saying it's ok).

My plan, if you can call it that:

1.  I will stick with the brand of sunscreen I already bought at Costco (which many dermatolgists recommend), even though it may be full of weird creepy chemicals, but will check out alternatives again once those run out to see if any of the natural brands suck less than they used to.

2.  I will continue to eat lots of health fruits and veggies and other whole foods to boost my body's ability to tolerate sun exposure.

3. I will apply sunscreen on my face if I'm going to be outside for more than a couple minutes or hanging out near sunny windows.  This picture of a truck driver who got sun only on one side of his face does serve as a reminder of the possible aesthetic impact of prolonged sun exposure:

4.  But I will most certainly forget to reapply unless I'm out for a really long time.

5.  I will curse mightily and slather sunscreen all over my body and my clothes and swimsuit if I'm going outside between 10 and 2pm for any length of time.

6. And if I'll be out biking or walking for more than a half hour or so and it is before 10 am or from 2-5ish, I will apply sunscreen half-heartedly to bodily surfaces that may end up horizontally oriented (shoulders, tops of arms, chest,back of neck, thighs, sandaled feet).

7. But if I'm going outside for less than half an hour during nonpeak sun hours, screw it.  What's the worst that could happen?

And yes, I know this all probably sounds completely looney-tunes.  Care to talk me out of it in the comments?

More Sunscreen Info:

  • Scary sunscreen ingredient information, warning against oxybenzone in particular, can be found at the EWG website,and they've got a huge index of good and bad brands. At CNN you can find a more mainstream take on the sunscreen ingredient controversy.
  • Blisstree has an article that takes a closer look at some of the best natural sunscreenshttp://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/
  • And Jane Brody at the NY Times has a PSA on making sure to slather sunscreen on your kids;
  • While the Primal approach to sun protection can be found over at Mark's Daily Apple.

Photo credits: Sunscreen face guy swiped from here; Phil Noto Namor comic found here; Ostrich here; blisstree had the scary truck driver, and hey, you can buy your own mutant twin brother here!

Got any more sensible ideas on how to deal with sunscreen hassles?


  1. I rarely use sunscreen. I don't like it. Never did. I use it sparingly while travelling, but for the most part I keep covered and wear a hat.
    Sunburn is best treated with either vinegar or, if you've got the time to relax while it does its thing, yogurt. Smear on, wait until it dries thoroughly (say an hour)and then wash off. I learned this years ago in Greece. Works beautifully and feels good.

  2. I try for the double whammy of buying makeup that has sunscreen in it...of course, the days that I don't wear makeup (which are more and more often), do you think I automatically put on sunscreen like we're supposed to? Haha, no.

    Also, I remember when we first moved from CA to TX and I dutifully applied sunscreen to my young children so they could go out and play...who knew that they would get sunburned at 6pm in Texas? That "between 10 and 2" thing doesn't apply this far south...more like "noon and 8"!

    Oh, and I like your plans. :)

  3. I went for years not using sunscreen thinking that a tan was protective.

    I was wrong, and I'm not wrong about much :-)

    Now I use a 50 sunscreen every day on face and hands, wear a hat and sun block clothing when doing sports in the sun, or sunscreen on exposed areas. I do get some sun exposure because of the vit D thing, but it doesn't take much.

    Our atmosphere does not filter the sun as it once did and that's what we have done so we are stuck with the effects.

    In addition, wear sunglasses because the white part of our eyes will "callous" from sun exposure.

    The problem is that the effects of sunlight are cumulative and take a long time to cause the cancer, but I guarantee it eventually will as our local dermatologists drive the fanciest cars!

    The paleo people are wrong! They just are too young at this point so they are still living in la la land on this.

    I became a surgeon by choice, but I have learned dermatology by necessity!

  4. I once got sunburned in January. In Copenhagen.

    So I'm a sunscreen nut, basically. It goes on whenever I go outside, even if it's only for ten minutes because yes, you can burn in ten minutes at 6:30 pm in Texas, as a commenter above pointed out. I wear long flowy things with sleeves and big floppy hats and UV protective sunglasses, too.

    All this and I think I have to have a dermatologist check out this thing on my arm. Siiiiiigh.....

  5. Except for sunrise and sunset, i try to stay indoors or at least in the shade. It's easier than sunscreen, which i use when i have to. One of the non chemical kinds that make me look funny but i don't care.

  6. You guys are so much more sensible than I am! I suspect reason will return soon, sigh. And who knows, maybe I'll find an effective, non-toxic, nonsticky, affordable, completely transparent natural brand that automatically applies itself. Is that too much to ask?

  7. Oh sunscreen, how we hate to love you and love to hate you.

    I used to grab whatever was on sale (weird from me, but eh) until my kids were born. Wait. Back that truck up. I used to buy only tan enhancing products when I was young and stupid. I have suffered more major burns (multiple peels) than any rational person should allow. Then I stopped that and just started not wearing anything. Then a friend had numerous spots removed from her skin and I decided I really did not want to suffer that fate, so I started buying whatever was on sale and slathering it on when I would be out for an hour or more. THEN my kids were born and I decided that wasn't a great approach either. So it's either Aveeno when I'm feeling frugal or California Baby when I'm feeling too much chemical invasion. Kids get application daily as they are outside during the day unless it's raining. I still apply only when I'll be out more than an hour. Hubby gets slathered when he'll be out more than 15 minutes. He burns easily. I do wear a moisturizer on my face/neck/ears every day that is SPF 30 or some such.

    And yeah. That's chalky white look is sooooo attractive.

    Aveeno definitely does better in water situations (more chems) but California Baby makes me feel holier than thou. And damn well it should when you're spending $20 for that itty bitty bottle.

    And sunglasses. You'll never find me without my sunglasses near at hand. And I'm slowly training my kids to the same habit. If only the two year old would stop ripping the stems off hers...

  8. I wear it if I'm going to be out in the scorching sun for more than a half hour. Or if I spend time on the water (fishing with Frank). I rarely think to reapply and I never wear it before May or after August.

    I believe (perhaps erroneously) that if I protect my skin against the worst of it but not obsess, I'll neither have serious ill-effects of the sun nor of the chemicals in the sunscreen.

  9. I am one that does not wear sunscreen but my children do. They have fairer skin than I do.

    The whole Vitamin D thing...well, that is another story. I love the sunshine. It is like a burst of prozac for me. I have had a Vit D deficiency forever, and predisposed to SAD in the winter because of it.
    I have to take 2000 mg. a day, rain or shine. My bones and body just do not process it as it should and when it becomes more apt to slide into those dangerous levels is when, in the past, i had gone on a non-fat, or extreme low fat diet plan. But that is me.

  10. I am pale and burn easily, but man do I LOATHE putting on sunscreen. It gets in my eyes and mouth and all over my hands and everything I touch and feels awful. Ug.

  11. I pretty much follow your plan. I know I should stay in between 10 and 4, but that would rule out hiking any where interesting. And any kind of outdoor summer exercise is a whole lot less fun in long pants and shirt, and a biga$$ hat. Recently I'm trying Loreal Sublime Sun sunscreen.It doesn't turn my skin white or give me those weird sunscreen goosebumps.

  12. I figure obesity, stress, or uterine cancer are gonna kill me faster than skin cancer will. Sounds kinda silly of me to worry about those more than skin cancer, but I'll just keep checking for new moles and forget the sunscreen. I don't care about wrinkles.

  13. I am reading this all & reading DR. J's response too. So much out there & so hard to know BUT we DO KNOW we have to protect our skin. I grew up when we did not know all this - you too. ;-) I have a friend that grew up in Palm Springs, CA & is fighting skin cancer with creams & cut out of spots every so many months & will be fighting for the rest of her life.

    For me, my biggest prob, I can't fins a sunscreen that does not break me out. I keep trying & now with the hair on the face, they all clog the hair follicles EVEN THE ONES FOR OILY SKIN. I keep trying to find one that will not cause major face under the skin break outs...

    I saw that truck driver story.

    PS: Check my winners post pls! :-)

  14. You must be one of those lucky people it doesn't cause breakouts on...that should be on the evil list.

  15. I use Badger Sunscreen 15. I never burn with it and it's rated good by EWG. Plus it's made in NH and I like to support local businesses.

  16. Sunscreen is important, however you also need to be aware of what is inside them.

    There are more natural products available which are just as effective.

    You just need to do some research

  17. People are wary of my digestive outbursts as it is. I am gonna have to watch my sunscreen application near my orifices.

    I like your plan. Not loony at all. PLUS "they" say that most of the damage you do is baked in the skin cake by your teens so most of us reading your fine post here are already screwed.

    I want a sunscreen that is not greasy, hard to rub in or sticky BUT will visibly tighten my skin. If they want me to apply it liberally, promise me that. And fresh breath... why not right.

  18. I burn in strong moonlight, so my choices are few. I hate wearing hats, but I've come to accept that it's the mature thing to wear them. I try to find ones that don't make me look like a complete maroon...so far, after about 15 years of searching deliberately: two.

    I've also come to appreciate linen. Lightweight, white, long-sleeved linen shirts, and loose linen trousers. Sigh...I'm an Old.

    The other half uses Badger when he goes out for epic, multi-hour (or day!) bike rides. He likes it, despite the chalky white. He's rather swarthy to begin with, though. I try to balance EWG rating with budgetary and access concerns. I was bummed when I read their review of Kinesys, my prior fave...goes on dry and not-sticky, works like a charm, makes you grow a third head. Phooey.

    I was desperate for a fresh tube for my first sunny day bike ride this summer and pinched for time, so I grabbed what was available at my local drugstore. It didn't bug me and I didn't burn, so now I'm afraid to look it up on EWG because I'm sure it, too, will kill me. Dang it.

  19. That's pretty much my approach as well. I rarely wear sunscreen on my arms and legs, but always on my face and I am also incredibly careful not to burn so do wear it anywhere that does go pink and if I'm going out in seriously hot sun for a long period of time.

    Having interviewed a lot of vitamin D experts recently, that's the message they seem to be repeating- exposing skin is okay, but going pink is not. Of course all the skin specialists I speak to are horrified by the idea of even going outside in winter without an SPF 15 so who knows!

    I'm with you on the chemical stories though - there's a lot more going on with all the things we've put on our skin and ingested in food recently than we know about yet.

  20. sunscreen, never use it. even when i at beach. I treated my sunburn with lotion with moisturizer tough, it not working so well, cause my skin still peel

  21. I can't stand the feeling of suncream (as it's called in the UK) and so hardly ever wear it. Only if I'm going to be outside, and I don't have a tan already, for more than an hour. But then the sun in the UK just ain't as strong as most of the US...

    I remember a story told to me by two of my Kinesiology teachers who used a GNLD supplement called Carotenoid complex to retard skin damage from the sun.

    They used pretty high dosages, I think up to 15 each day, and gradually decreased back to normal dose (3 a day) over the course of their holiday, which was in the south of France. They used the same protocol the next year in South Africa, but because the sun is stronger there, they stayed out in the sun for shorter periods and carried on a higher dose for longer.

    Since that point I have used Carotenoid complex for this purpose and it does seem to give a pretty decent level of protection against burning.

    Don't take my story as advice, feel free to experiment on yourself!

    Keep up the good work,

  22. I'm with you, Crabby. I have tried so many healthy sunscreens, which I have to put on not only my ever-increasing body, but also on my two children, whose surface area is increasing correctly every year.

    I have decided to use those spray ons for us when we need to reapply or when we're at the beach and have to be really, really careful. the rest of the time, it's the healthy sticky stuff as often as i can manage.

  23. Loreal makes a spray on sport SPF 30 or 60 sunscreen I love. You can't feel it when it is on and since I burn instantly, it's a lifesaver for me to build up a base tan in the summer. I have a husband who is...well...stupid about sunscreen and lotions. HE's half vampite and wants super sunscreen but hates the feel of anything on his skin. He likes this stuff too, so it's a keeper. It is (of course) stupidly expensive, but t's the only thing I've found that keeps me from sunburning in the summer. OK any time.
    I am amazed at how easy it is to get a sunburn even when it's cloudy. In Scotland a few weeks ago I brilliantly sunburned my nose hiking up a mountain...I should know by now, but I still forget sunscreen every spring and it takes one goos sunburn to remind me.
    Then it's aloe vera gel all over...

  24. I tend to stick mostly to shade & wear long sleeves and a hat. I also wear sunscreen, but don't worry about the chemicals in it. I figure by my age, I have already been exposed to so many chemicals (esp with radiation treatments) that what ever is going to kill me is already at work in my system. I just don't like the burn and peel, I'd rather look like a vampire year round.

  25. The ostrich is hilarious!

    I used to be a sunscreen queen, but since I quit my job and started working from home, I am sunscreen-free!
    When I have to go out, I make sure to wear a large hat and long sleeves to keep damaging effects of the sun away.

  26. It also depends on your skin type. People with fair skin could potentially get badly burned if they don't wear sunscreen so you have to work out if the benefits of wearing it outweigh not wearing it.

  27. I am very fair, not to mention balding. In the sun, a hat is my BFF or else I get head burn...not fun. I use spray on sunscreen on my arms and the bottom of my legs (capris only here, no shorts). If I am swimming outside, I wear a shirt and spray the legs and exposed arms. Basically, I should just stay inside.

  28. Crabby, the simplest protection is to move to Oregon! Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "where the sun don't shine." of course, since I spend most of my waking hours in a windowless building, it's not a problem anyway.

    When I lived in in Cali, I religiously slathered on the kabuki makeup -- I mean I always wore sunscreen. But then, I had good reason. My father grew up in Texas back when manly men didn't wear sunscreen, so I had a living lesson of what skin cancer looks like. Some times it stinks to be Irish.

    If you hate the greasy lotion stuff -- understandably!-- would hats work for you?

    I still use the regular--but also wash this in our clothes.
    Im a texan :-)

  30. I think my sunscreen philosophy is pretty similar.

    I buy the least offensive type I can find; I won't wear it if I can't stand how it feels on my skin. I do wear a tinted sunscreen on my face pretty much every day, but other than that I try to gauge how much sun I'm going to be getting. Earlier/later in the day, or if I'm going to be out for only a few minutes, I don't bother. If I'm going to be in the blazing sunlight for a good amount of time (more than 20 minutes), I dutifully apply. I'm not so good at the reapplying, though I know I should. If I can, I will find shade to be in. I'm a redhead - too much sun does not agree with me.

  31. I loathe sunscreen, but it is a necessary evil. My two favourite (least-disgusting) ones are a Nivea 'extra-light' one which minimises the sticky-icky, and Invisible Zinc which goes on like a thin layer of chalk, makes your face dry up and takes you down two notches of skin tone towards 'fair', but its great benefit is that it doesn't budge (and isn't goopy).
    My boss (who is also a redhead) and I think that a great idea for a product would be a sunscreen booth (like a spray tan booth) that would coat you with sunscreen each morning before you left the house.

  32. I have been a sunscreen person for quite a while now, my wife convinces me to, and as if I have a choice. Yes I could say it helps because heat of the sun is just so unhealthy to me. And previously not having sunscreen on I can feel that my skin is really dry and a lot of white marks or should I say freckles starting to come out on my skin but when I started to put on sunscreen almost everyday or when I go to the beach or get exposed to sunlight no more freckles coming out and skin isn't dry anymore


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)