Sunscreen Recipes

Are the Ingredients in Sunscreen Harmful?

6 Mins read

Sunscreens are quite possibly one of the greatest inventions.

But with some ingredients in sunscreen coming under fire, many people are concerned about what they’re putting on their skin and ask, “What is in my sunscreen?”

Are the Ingredients in Sunscreen Harmful?

Yes, they can be. Sunscreens are meant to protect your skin from UV rays, whether it’s protecting against sunburn or skin cancer.

This way, sunscreen will help prevent these issues and keep your skin healthy.

However, many people often don’t realize that these same ingredients can cause damage over time, even if used in small amounts.

For example, many look at oxybenzone as an ingredient with the potential to cause harm when used frequently.

This ingredient is practically everywhere, in products ranging from body washes to cosmetics to sunscreen.

When applied topically every day, it has been known to disrupt hormones in adults and children alike.

Ingredients to Avoid in Your Sunscreen

The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens includes a list of ingredients to avoid.

Here are the ingredients you’ll want to avoid:

1. Oxybenzone

This ingredient is a hormone disruptor that may cause allergic reactions. It can also damage coral reefs.

2. Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, speeds the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied before exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

According to the FDA, retinyl palmitate should not be used in products that expose the skin to sunlight because of its potential risk of skin cancer and other harmful effects.

3. Octinoxate

Octinoxate is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that acts like estrogen in your body.

It can also cause allergic reactions.

4. Parabens

Parabens are another type of hormone disruptor, especially when they’re used in sunscreens.

They’ve been found in breast tumors, so it’s best not to take any chances with parabens when there are safer alternatives available.

5. Octocrylene

This chemical absorbs UVA (ultraviolet A) rays and may be toxic to aquatic life, so using octocrylene-based sunscreen around bodies of water is not recommended.

6. Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)

This ingredient is a butane derivative that has been known to leave residue on the skin in the form of micro-particles, which can cause allergic reactions and may be carcinogenic.

7. Zinc Oxide (ZnO)

Zinc oxide is a common ingredient in sunscreens that is frequently contaminated with impurities such as aluminum hydroxide, silica, and calcium oxide.

Long-term exposure to zinc oxide through daily application onto skin may lead to kidney and liver damage and central nervous system issues such as fatigue and headaches.

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What’s the Difference Between Physical Uv Blocking Ingredients and Chemical Uv Blocking Ingredients?

The difference between a chemical and a physical blocker is in how it interacts with the UV rays. A chemical blocker works by absorbing the UV rays into its molecules, whereas a physical blocker deflects or reflects the rays away from your skin.

Chemical blockers use organic compounds called avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, Mexoryl SX, and sulisobenzone.

These molecules are designed to absorb or dissipate the energy of ultraviolet light. Also, chemical blockers don’t allow UV rays through to your skin at all; they block them.

Physical blockers include ingredients like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and avobenzone in combination with other ingredients such as octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, and oxybenzone.

They work by deflecting or reflecting the UV rays away from your body; they do not absorb the UV rays into their molecules and then dissipate them as chemical blockers do.

Should You Avoid Spf 100 Sunscreen?

For the most part, you shouldn’t shun SPF 100+ lotions. If you do choose an SPF 100+ sunscreen, be sure to apply it liberally and as directed.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that people use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

However, some experts feel that consumers should avoid using high-SPF products — or at least, not rely on them as their primary source of sun protection.

Sunscreens with a high SPF can leave people with a false sense of security — leading them to spend more time in the sun without reapplying sunscreen or wearing protective clothing, for example.

When used improperly, high-SPF products can also cause vitamin D deficiencies, which can decrease bone health in children and adults.

Recent FDA tests have shown that some over-the-counter sunscreens labeled as SPF 100+ didn’t provide the protection claimed on the packaging.

The agency requires manufacturers to test each product before it hits the market; however, there’s no guarantee that they’re testing accurately.

Consumers should still read labels carefully and use sunscreen as directed, no matter how much protection it claims to provide.

Are Organic Sunscreens Better?

There is no evidence that sunscreens containing ingredients found in nature are better for you than those made with synthetic compounds, according to a report published online June 2021 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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The report took a comprehensive look at ingredients in sunscreens and their effectiveness in protecting against skin cancer and other harmful effects from the sun.

Are Mineral Sunscreens and Titanium Dioxide Safe to Use

Both mineral sunscreens contain only titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide and physical sunscreens are safe to use, according to the FDA.

Physical sunscreen ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide provide broad-spectrum protection against the sun’s harmful rays.

In addition, many dermatologists recommend physical sunscreens (also called mineral sunscreens) for people with sensitive skin because they tend to be less irritating than other sunscreen ingredients.

Mineral sunscreens may appear white when first applied but they usually rub in well and are less noticeable than a lotion that contains chemical UV filters.

However, some people might not prefer the way these products feel on their skin, or they might not like the appearance of the white residue left from this type of sunscreen.

If you are concerned about using a white residue sunscreen, ask your dermatologist for a recommendation for a good physical sunscreen with a better cosmetic finish.

Is It Safer to Use Sunscreens That Need Reapplying More Often?

The higher SPF (sun protection factor) numbers in sunscreens indicate how long they should protect you from the sun. The FDA requires that SPF 15 or higher products prevent burning for at least two hours without reapplication.

These days, many people choose sunscreens with higher SPFs, like 30 and 45.

But they also contain chemicals that are absorbed into the skin and break down faster than the ingredients in lower-SPF formulations.

As a result, these products need to be applied more often.

Some people may find it easier to use sunscreen with a lower SPF, but re-applying every two hours may not be practical for them.

They should select a product with an SPF of 30 or 40 — but only if they feel safe doing so.

Are SPF Values More Important Than Toxic Ingredients?

SPF ratings have no bearing on the quality or safety of ingredients used in sunscreens.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) values are used to measure the effectiveness of sunscreen.

SPF 15, for example, means that wearing sunscreen will allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer than if you did not use it.

SPF is measured by applying a sunscreen product and measuring how long it takes before skin reddens.

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An SPF value of 15 should protect your skin from reddening due to ultraviolet light 15 times longer than if no protection were used.

Is SPF 50 Better Than SPF 30?

SPF 30 sunscreen will give you more protection than SPF 50, but it’s not double the protection.

SPF 30 sunscreen blocks 97 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.

The takeaway here is that higher-number sunscreens don’t offer a lot more protection than lower-number ones.

But higher-number sunscreens do sell better because people think they’re getting more for their money.

How Do You Know if Your SPF Is Enough?

There are a few ways you can tell if your SPF is strong enough, but the easiest is to apply a little and leave it on for five minutes. If your face doesn’t burn or turn red, you’re good to go.

How Will I Know That My Sunscreen Is Actually Broad Spectrum?

The best way to tell if your sunscreen is broad spectrum is to check the active ingredients list. Sunscreen is required to contain certain active ingredients and certain percentages of those ingredients in order to be labeled broad spectrum.

If a product meets these criteria, it will say so on the label. If you read “sunscreen” but not “broad spectrum” on the label, then your sunscreen likely does not protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

How Are Sunscreens Tested for Broad Spectrum Protection?

In order to be labeled “broad spectrum,” a sunscreen must pass both the FDA’s broad spectrum test and its SPF test.

The FDA’s broad spectrum test assesses UVA protection by determining if a product has passing levels of two UVA-blocking chemicals: avobenzone (also known as Parsol 1789) and ecamsule (also known as MexorylTM). Products that pass this test display a special icon on their labels.

The SPF test measures a sunscreen’s ability to absorb UVB rays. SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” and it’s defined as how long it takes for skin that has been treated with sunscreen to begin turning red compared with unprotected skin.

Final Thoughts

Both the US Food & Drug Administration and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) state that there is no evidence to suggest that sunscreens are harmful to humans, and while recent research may show that they contain harmful chemicals, the likelihood of absorbing those chemicals in sufficient quantities is relatively small.