How Safe Is Your Sunscreen? 4 Ingredients To Avoid

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How Safe Is Your Sunscreen?  4 Ingredients To Avoid

Peak sunblock season is finally here.  We all want a product that will protect us from the sun, without unnecessary or harmful chemicals.

Here’s the simple truth about sunscreens:  the sunscreens we all grew up with contain chemicals shown to mimic hormones.  Hormone disruption has been linked to infertility, diabetes, neurological disorders and cancer. The good news is there are plenty of safer sunscreens on the market.  But how do you find the right one?  It can feel overwhelming staring at all the options on the shelves.  No only do we want safer sunscreen, but we also don’t want a product that is sticky, gooey, or leaves us looking like a ghost! We’ve simplified what to look for in your next bottle of sunscreen to avoid overwhelm and easily find a safer product:  avoid 4 ingredients.  We also want our sunscreen to feel great, smell good, and rub in easily.  Keep reading for our favorites!

Avoid These 4 Ingredients For Safer Sunscreen:

  1. Chemical blocks (oxybenzone most common)
  2. Retinyl palmitate (vitamin A)
  3. Parabens
  4. Fragrance

What’s the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen? All sunscreens fall into one of two categories:  chemical or physical. Chemical sunscreens use the active ingredient oxybenzone (most common), avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate or octinoxate.  Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Physical sunscreens use the active ingredient zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  Physical sunscreens provide a barrier on your skin and reflect ultraviolet rays away. Why avoid chemical sunscreens? Studies on the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens reveal 3 alarming facts:

  1. They are hormone disruptors: they mimic estrogen and disrupt the hormone system.  Oxybenxone (found in 80% of chemical sunscreens) was found to be toxic to reproductive systems and interfere with normal development.
  2. They react with the sun’s rays to create damaging free radicles, which may increase the risk of skin cancer.
  3. They penetrate the skin and end up in our bodies:  2 European studies found sunscreen chemicals in 85% of human breast milk samples, and a CDC study tested the urine of girls between the ages of 6-8 years old and found oxybenzone present in 96% of the time. (sources)

Why avoid retinyl palmitate (vitamin A, retinol)? Vitamin A is found in nearly 25% of all sunscreens because it is an anti-oxidant and slows skin aging. But, recent studies show that it may speed the development of skin cancer when exposed to sunlight.  Not ideal for a product meant to be worn in the sun!

Why avoid parabens? Parabens are known endocrine disruptors. Studies have linked these endocrine disruptors, which mimic estrogen, with breast cancer. A recent study showed that methylparaben is such a powerful hormone disruptor that it rendered the cancer drug tamoxifin ineffective.  The most common parabens include:  methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben.

Why avoid the ingredient fragrance? The ingredient fragrance can contain dozens of undisclosed chemicals, often including phthalates.  Phthalates have been linked to endocrine disruption, cancer, neurotoxicity, diabetes, and decreased sperm count in men.  Even products labeled “fragrance free” can contain the ingredient “fragrance” so read the ingredient list. Notice a trend in the ingredients to avoid?  3 of them are linked to hormone disruption.   What’s the cumulative effect of multiple hormone disruptors in one product applied regularly?  The truth is, we don’t know.  But, with multiple studies linking hormone disruption to infertility, diabetes, neurological disorders and cancer, why take the risk?  We don’t have to with so many great alternatives.

What are our favorite sunscreens? All of the following sunscreens are free of the 4 ingredients to avoid, feel great on your skin, and won’t leave you feeling sticky or looking like a white ghost.

Sport, Active, and All-Day Sunscreens – for babies, kids, and you: If you are using a natural physical sunscreen without parabens or fragrance, then it will be safe for you as well as your little ones.  You don’t need multiple tubes for every member of the family (be sure to check the label for babies under 6 months).

Goddess Garden Organics SPF 30.  This sunblock goes on incredibly light, and offers great protection.  This is the sunscreen our whole family uses (mom, dad, and kids!). Active ingredient:  Zinc Oxide 19%. $18

Thinksport SPF 50+.  After 6 days in sunny Mexico without even a hint of pink cheeks, we were impressed.  This rubs in well and stays on better in the water then some of the other brands. Active ingredient:  20% non-nano zinc oxide.  $13 (gothinksport.com)

Suntegrity Sunscreen for Body SPF 30.  I love the slightly citrus smell of this sunscreen.  It goes on easily, without leaving a white or greasy residue. I have to admit – I save this one for just me!  Active ingredient:  Zinc Oxide 20%.  $24

California Baby SPF 30.  I have used this on my babies since their first summer.  I love the way it goes on, stays on, and really protects.  Active ingredient:  Titanium dioxide 11%.  $20

Badger Active SPF 30.  This is a regular favorite with natural product lovers.  The ingredients are simple and pure, and protects well.  It goes on a bit thicker, and heavier, but rubs in and won’t leave a white residue.  Active ingredient:  Zinc Oxide 18.75%.  $12

Daily Facial Moisturizers and Tinted Moisturizers:

Juice Beauty Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 30.  This goes on smoothly, has a subtle tint, and a pleasant smell.  This is my go-to daily moisturizer.  Active ingredient:  Zinc Oxide 20%.  $29

Suntegrity 5-in-1Moisturizing Sunscreen, Tinted SPF 30.   This BB cream feels amazing, smells fresh, and goes on light.  Suntegrity was created in memory of the founder’s mom who lost her life to skin cancer (read more about Suntegrity here). Active ingredient:  Zinc Oxide 20%.  $45

Michelle Replenishing Solar Defense SPF 30.  Goes on easy and light.  Active ingredient:  13.5% Zinc Oxide $28 DSC_0531

With so many great, natural physical sunscreens available, why expose ourselves to the questionable ingredients in chemical sunscreens?  We will slather up countless days this summer, and reapply often.  Let’s be safe, and choose sunscreens that are effective without hormone disruptors and other toxins. Do you have a favorite physical sunscreen?  Share it in the comments below!

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8 Comments

  1. I only use organic lotions and products on my face and body for everything else but haven’t found a natural option for sunscreen yet. Thanks so much for the tips!

    • Hi Ann, your welcome! I hope this list helps you add a natural sunscreen to your beauty routine.

  2. I completely agree about avoiding chemical sunscreens. I actually like to avoid sunscreen at all if I’m not going to be in the sun long enough to get burned, since any SPF above 4 blocks vitamin D production. If I will be in the sun for a long time (like a beach day or long hike), I use Mychelle brand. Like your list above, this one uses minerals but doesn’t leave your skin white. It’s also one of the few that doesn’t irritate my skin or leave it looking greasy.

    • Hi Lily, Great point about vitamin D production… and thanks for sharing your experience with Mychelle. I am adding it to my list of products to try!

  3. Thanks for providing products to try! Are these widely available in stores or do I need to order them online?

    • Hi Beth, You can find California Baby at Target – a good thing to know if you are on vacation and forget or run out of sunscreen! The following are available at Whole Foods: Goddess Organics Baby, Badger, California Baby, Juice Beauty. Ava Anderson, Luzern, and Suntegrity are only available on line (directly from the manufacturer, Amazon, or the Live-Clear shop). Hope that helps!! Let us know what you try 🙂

  4. Totally on board with avoiding the potential to have hormone disruption, such as in my case where I already struggle with estrogen dominance! Thanks for a list of sunscreens that meet your approval!!

  5. Thank you for writing about safety issues with sunscreen and sunblock.

    Please address the topic of nano-particles as well. It is not easy to find a sun product free of nano-particles.

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