Sensitive to Sunscreen? Let Me Help You With That.

If you are (un)lucky enough to follow my Facebook page, you probably noticed me bitching about discussing my never-ending search for a safe, non-chemical sunscreen that doesn’t melt my family’s faces off.

Sunscreen is a huge issue during the warmer months, given a hefty dose of Irish running through 3/4ths of us. A few weeks ago, I had my third basal cell carcinoma removed from my body, so it’s important that I protect as much of my skin from the sun as possible. You know, besides cloaking myself in a full-body muumuu. (Is that how you spell “muumuu?” Quick aside…writing the word “muumuu” triggered this mental cascade: Muumuu -> Hawaii -> The incredibly hot Hawaiian actor who played Khal Drogo on the Game of Thrones. I love him and his scary eye makeup and the ponytail thingy and his beard. The end.)

p.s. – I just recently started watching Game of Thrones, and seriously, what is up with the gruesome violence? How do you people watch that without wincing/dry heaving/sobbing? I think I witnessed 1,267 beheadings in the first 10 minutes of the the first episode. Oh, I know, I know, THE WRITING IS SOOO GOOD.

p.p.s. – Please, no spoilers. I’m only on Season 2.

p.p.p.s. – Wait. Was this post about sunscreen?

Sunscreen. Here’s the gist. I can’t wear chemical sunscreens – they absolutely torch my skin. Some common chemical sunscreens are Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, and Oxybenzone. Look at the sunscreens lying around your house; chances are they contain one or all of the above.

Let me take a step back and explain the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens contain special ingredients that act as filters and reduce ultraviolet radiation penetration to the skin. These sunscreens often are colorless and maintain a thin visible film on the skin, but can also penetrate. These sunscreens usually contain UVB absorbing chemicals and more recently contain UVA absorbers as well.

Physical Sunscreens, most often referred to as sunblocks, are products containing ingredients such a Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide which physically block ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Sunblocks provide broad protection against both UVB and UVA light, and they don’t readily absorb into the skin like their chemical counterparts. They can be thicker to apply, but it is an easy trade-off for my family, personally.

A few weeks ago, I was forced asked to send my kids to camp with a spray sunscreen. (Please, if you are using aerosol spray sunscreens, stop right now. They are horrible for many reasons.) Being the rule follower I am, I obeyed and began an extremely robust search for a spray sunscreen that was relatively less harmful for my kiddos. I chose a spray due to its decent rating on the EWG’s Sunscreen Report, and, well, sprayed and prayed, basically.

This was the result.


This was Day 3 of The Great Spray Sunscreen Rash of 2015, and it stuck around for almost a week, despite a strong prescription antihistamine. Poor guy, right? His eyes were practically swollen shut on a few of those days.

Turns out the spray had a few chemical sunscreens in it, and my son’s face did not approve of that juncture. At all.

Back to the drawing board. Knowing that my skin has always responded well to Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide (physical sunblocks), I cut out any option that included chemical sunscreens.

I think this is a good time to point out that chemical sunscreens work well for many people. If you wear a chemical sunscreen and it doesn’t produce an allergic reaction, by all means, continue to wear it. There are reports that chemical sunscreens can cause harm, but I’ll let you make that decision. However, this post is really meant for those of us who can’t tolerate the chemicals on our skin.

I have used a few physical blocks in the past with decent success, but have found the holy grail and wanted to tell you all about it. Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30. It is fantastic – the active ingredient is 19% Zinc Oxide, and the lightweight, water-resistant formula blends into skin without leaving white streaks or a weird smell. I also love the Mineral Sunscreen Stick (for the face!) AND the Mineral Sunscreen Mist, as it’s not an aerosol spray – it’s air-powered. #fistbump

Additionally, I used to wonder if SPF 30 was enough for my children, but now that it’s been proven that super high SPFs are a marketing ploy, I feel extremely comfortable using SPF 30 on my entire family’s skin.

Love these sunscreens from Beautycounter, and while we’re talking Beautycounter, here’s my a no-fail, daily Beautycounter face.


Skin: Tint Skin in Linen. (Although I use Sand in the summer.) A light dusting of Radiant Bronzer in Cabana on my temples, forehead, and bridge of nose.

Cheeks: Satin Powder Blusher in Guava or Cream Blusher in Hibiscus.

Eyes: Velvet Eyeshadow Palette in Romantic

Lips: Lip Sheer in Lily topped with Lip Gloss in Peony. (You can see most of the color swatches on me here.)

*And if I want to add a little sumthin’ sumthin’ for a night out, I will line the inner rims of my eyes with the black pencil and switch to the Color Intense Lipstick in Twilight.

So, there you go. A sunscreen post that morphed into an everyday look tutorial with a side of Game of Thrones. Multi-tasking FTW.


Your Faithful (and Sun-Protected!) Beauty Enabler

  1. Andrea

    June 26, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    The timing on this is perfect! I’m on the search for something new since my son came home from 1/2 day soccer camp with flaming red cheeks and ears (that blistered!) and it was very overcast out. I know, you can still burn on overcast days but this reaction was clearly not a burn.

    • whoorl

      June 26, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      I bet it was an allergy for sure!!

  2. Danielle Hoffmeister

    June 26, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Your skin looks so lovely! I has made me want to try all the Beauty Counter things.

    • Danielle Hoffmeister

      June 26, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      *It. I hate it when I can’t fix typos.

      • whoorl

        June 26, 2015 at 10:24 pm

        Haha, me too. Thank you, though!

  3. Rachel

    June 26, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I’m curious about the eye pencils. If they’re long wearing, non smudging. What do the colors look like on? Especially the brown and amethyst? Thanks.

    • whoorl

      June 26, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      They definitely are long wearing and you can make them smudge, but they don’t on their own. They’re not creamy pencils, like Urban Decay or something similar. They definitely are on the waxy side, which I like because I don’t like my eye pencils to transfer on my lid! Haven’t tried Amethyst, but the brown is a nice dark neutral brown. I also like Violet, which is very dark.

  4. Emily

    June 26, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I used to think I was the only one who couldn’t wear sunscreen. My redhead mother would slather me up on beach vacations as a wee one and by day 2 I would be hovering under beach towels unable to enjoy the sun, sand, or surf because of the burns all over my body. My mother thought she just hadn’t applied enough sunscreen and more and more would be applied. At first my cries and quick legs prevented her from slathering me and the finally, at about 9 years old, a doctor suggested that it could be the sunscreens that are giving me mock-sunburns. Since then I haven’t worn sunscreen. I made the mistake at 20 to listen to a friend’s mom on a boating trip to lake havasu and applied it to my nose…..my poor nose practically fell off the next day. I’ve never had a sunburn and I’m certain that one day one of my moles will turn against me.

    I was so happy to see your suggestion about this sunscreen from beautycounter. I think their products are lovely and I really respect Gregg – she was a client and consultant to Sugar Paper when I ran their Brentwood location. I have to be honest though, knowing you’re a beautycounter seller makes me question the recommendation. Is this just a beautycounter advertisement? I really hope not. I’m a fan of your blog and usually love your suggestions, but this one leaves me wondering…..

    • whoorl

      June 26, 2015 at 10:40 pm

      I can see why you would wonder, but I have to say absolutely not. I am 100% passionate about Beautycounter – using clean beauty products has been such a priority to me over the past few years, and the line has fit into my life just perfectly. (Seriously, I wish you could see my/my kids’ bathroom cabinets…Beautycounter everything! I am such a fan.)

      As for “advertisements,” I receive free products from just about every line out there, but that never sways my decision to write/not write about them. I only write about home run products (which are always the ones I buy myself, it seems) , and I believe that’s why so many of my readers have stuck around for 10 years. :)

      That’s crazy about your skin/nose! Do physical blocks create the same burn-like effect too?

      • Emily

        June 26, 2015 at 10:55 pm

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Sarah!

        As for sunscreens, I’ve found that most of them – even physical – have the chemicals blended in. Outside of a pure zinc stick (think late-1980’s Malibu lifeguards), I haven’t had much luck.

        I’d be willing to try this one from beautycounter though. I’m going to head to their website and check out the full list of ingredients.

        Thanks again for the reply! Wishing you and yours the best on this anti-chemical journey!

  5. Martha

    June 27, 2015 at 8:40 am

    So happy that I am not alone in sunscreen allergy. Most of the chemical ones, including those in cosmetics, break me out. Over the years, the breakouts have progressed from itchy bumps to a horrible blistered rash……no more chemicals for me. I have had good luck with blue lizard sensitive but am glad that there are more options out there.

  6. Brianna

    June 27, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Thank you for this! I have been eliminating everything with sunscreen because every time I wear a product with it in it, I get these dry red itchy spots on my face. I believe it has to be the sunscreen. I’m trying the Tarte one right now and I think it’s okay based on what you wrote about the ingredients.
    Thanks again!

    • whoorl

      June 27, 2015 at 12:31 pm

      Good deal on the Tarte! Glad you figured it out.

  7. Anne

    June 27, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you for this update! Have been wanting to try Beauty Counter and I think you have me convinced! Are you using the tint skin without spf? Or the one with… The descriptions on the website make them look like pretty different products. What do you use for face sunscreen? Thanks!

    • whoorl

      June 27, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      Hi Anne! I’m so glad someone asked me this because I have lots to say. First off, I own both the Tint Skin and the Dew Skin (I wear Linen/Sand in Tint Skin and Dew Skin in #2.) I like them both because they do wear differently. I have to say my go-to is Tint Skin – I can’t say enough about the product, seriously, if they discontinued, I would cry. When I wear Tint Skin, I wear an Olay Complete Sunscreen SPF30 underneath (it is made with Titanium Dioxide, yay!)…I used to wear Beautycounter’s Protect Face, but it’s currently being reformulated.

      The Tint Skin leaves me with a nice luminous finish and is lightweight. The Dew Skin is much more, well, dewy on the skin. It leaves more of a sheen than the Tint Skin, and it has Zinc Oxide in it. Either way, I like them both…it really just depends on how dewy you want your skin to look. Hope this helps!

      • Anne

        June 27, 2015 at 1:51 pm

        Thank you! That was super helpful. Based on the description the one with spf seemed too “Dewy” – don’t need any extra shine going on! I generally wear bobbi brown tinted moisterizer in the light to medium tint….can you recommend what shade of tint skin based on that?? Nervous to buy without trying on! Thank you!!!

  8. Christina

    June 27, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    I am so glad you added a beauty counter tutorial to this post! I have been wanting to ask you about Tint Skin. Will it hold up on my oily/combination skin? What coverage does it provide and how long does it usually last? I switched to clean beauty products (face/hair/body) last fall and have had trouble finding a foundation. My skin is actually breaking out more frequently than before. Thank you for any help/advise you can offer!! :-)

  9. Kaolee Hoyle

    June 28, 2015 at 12:37 am

    I haven’t tried Beauty Counter’s sunscreen (although I have considered it!!!). I’m currently using the Honest Company’s, and it’s working really well for our family. I am very allergic to most sunscreen, and have gone through a bunch just trying it out so I can see if I can even put it on my son without me breaking out. Well, I finally received The Honest Company’s in the mail, tested it out on myself (inside elbow), and no skin reactions, so we have been using it this year. And so far, I love it, and my son (11 months) is doing well with it. I wouldn’t mind trying Beauty Counter’s once mine runs out. It’s always nice to test out other company’s, especially if it is not going to give me any skin reactions!

    • whoorl

      June 28, 2015 at 8:15 am

      Glad to hear that Honest is working for you!!

  10. C.

    June 28, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    What are you doing about spray sunscreen for camp? I’d be interested in a safe option for my kids.

  11. Charlene Lammers

    June 28, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I have been reading the articles about the higher SPF is a ploy and went with a chemical sunscreen for our annual lake trip.

    Slapped on the SPF 30 and kept reapplying that like suggested. 1st day everything went great, 2nd day everything went to pot. Husband is burnt, burnt kiddo and I’m pretty much a lobster. Doing a run to Walgreen the next day due to rain. Ended up switching to a physical sunscreen due a frantic search on what we needed and it saved our vacation. Will be ordering your suggestion to make sure we have more in our bag. Chemical suncreen is no longer in our bag because something has changed in the formula. Also, it does agree with us.

  12. Marissa

    June 29, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Kiss My Face makes a non chemical kids spray sunscreen for camp (never tried as I have young kids who can’t hold their breath). My favorite sunscreen is Badger Balm. THE BEST. I used the kids formulation on my infant – to the horror of the sales lady at Central Market – but have recently bought the infant formualation so please don’t call CPS. Jason makes a good one too.

  13. Block Island Organics

    June 29, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Good thoughts. Chemical sunscreens and sprays are definitely worth avoiding. For sprays not only are the chemicals in them a challenge for sensitive skin (most sprays are chemical although not all) but also a lot of the sunscreen is lost in the wind and inhaling the sunscreen is not the best either. A mineral lotion type of sunscreen (ours for example) are the best way to go.

  14. Laura

    July 15, 2015 at 5:24 am

    Thank you for being so product-specific in your make-up posts. I often use your makeup posts as a guide before purchasing. I am really enjoying using Tarte primer and the Make Up for All pressed powder for summer. My question for you is about skin care, particularly anti-aging stuff. SO many of my friends sell Rodan and Fields right now and I KNOW there are many harmful ingredients after doing some research, but I see pretty amazing results posted online from their Reverse line. I have a relative who sells Beautycounter and she sent me a huge bag of samples that I enjoyed, but aren’t really big enough to know if they actually help decrease that awful forehead wrinkle. Do you have any suggestions? Unfortunately your cute bangs would not work with my battle the frizz hair. :)

  15. Ann

    September 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Is there anywhere to try samples of these products? I love your descriptions of some of them, but am nervous about some of the prices without being able to try them on my sensitive skin.