Top 5 Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients

This is a guest post by Robin Adler of Toxic Beauty Blog. To stay up to date with new posts and updates from Robin, follow her on…

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Top 5 Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients

Summer is in full swing! I am lucky enough to live minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, so beach going is one of my favorite summer outings. For many people, summer activities include spending long periods of time outdoors. One of the things we need to be mindful of is this. If you’re going to be in the sun for long periods, you must use sunscreen!  Who hasn’t gotten a sunburn before and said, “I will never let this happen again!” I know I have! We also must remember the sun isn’t bad for us and provides our bodies with Vitamin D.

Many people slather on commercial sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (spf) thinking they’re protecting their skin. In reality, they’re exposing themselves to chemicals 1000 times more harmful than the sun. Studies show many “commercial” sunscreen ingredients contribute more to skin cancer than the sun itself. Here are the top 5 poisonous sunscreen ingredients to look out for and avoid like the plague!

Some may be familiar to you, while a few may open your eyes.

1. Oxybenzone a.k.a. benzophenone-3 is a chemical added to most  sunscreens to guard the skin from UVA rays. It also prevents other sunscreen ingredients from deteriorating.  Sunlight causes oxybenzone to form free radical chemicals linked to cell damage.  A 2008 Center for Disease Control study, showed oxybenzone is readily absorbed in the body and is present in 97% of Americans tested.  More women had this toxin in their bodies, mainly because oxybenzone is used in personal care products such as, lotions, creams, and body washes.

Studies have shown it’s a likely carcinogen and is linked with:

▪   Allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage

▪   Low birth weight in babies whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy

2. Nanoparticles are extremely tiny particles added to sunscreen because they are easily absorbed by the skin. However, not enough research has been done on these particles. It is known that due to their small size, they act differently in the body.

“Spray Sunscreens” frequently contain nano particles and are more dangerous. This is because the particles can be inhaled. Safe metals such as zinc and titanium dioxide occurring in most sunscreens are safe as long as they aren’t put in nano particle form. Most sunscreens will not list nanoparticles as  one of the ingredients, but sunscreens which don’t have nanos will say this on the label.

Studies show “nano” zinc oxide can kill colon and brain stem cells, penetrate the skin, and travel through blood and urine. In addition, one study linked “nano” titanium dioxide to genetic changes, alzheimer’s, autism, and epilepsy. So, while zinc and titanium dioxide are excellent choices for safe sunscreen, they must be in non-nano form.

3. Retinyl Palmitate [RP] received a lot of press a few years ago. I posted about this on Toxic Beauty Blog  in June of 2010 and again a year later.  RP is a form of vitamin A added to 41% of the sunscreens on the market and to other skin care products. In a National Toxicology Program (NTP) study, it was found when skin is treated with a mix of retinyl palmitate and skin cream and is exposed to ultraviolet light, the cream with retinyl palmitate stimulated lesion and tumor growth. While Vitamin A is a wonderful skin care ingredient when in it’s natural state, it obviously has no business being in a sunscreen when your skin is in direct sunlight.

4. Octyl methoxycinnamate, also known as Octinoxate, Eusolex 2292 and Uvinul MC80, creates free radicals inside the skin which post significant threat to DNA. Like oxybenzone, it works with other penetration enhancers to penetrate skin and accumulates in the body. Also, similarly to retinyl palmitate, it has phototoxic effects (toxic reaction provoked by light and often linked to photosensitivity!) In addition, it has been shown to have estrogenic effects and disrupt  thyroid hormones.

5. Another ingredient used to block UVA rays is Padimate O, paraminobenzoic acid, or PABA. According to the EWG’s Skin Deep database, “Research shows this chemical releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, and causes allergic reactions in some people.” A report done by the FDA a few years ago implicated padimate O as a nitrosamine, a class of compounds known to be carcinogenic. Many people avoid this because it is irritating to the skin.

[Another negative effect of all these ingredients…is they are also damaging to the environment. Some of these toxins have been found in lakes, rivers, and oceans and this in turn harms wildlife, including coral reefs.]

So while you should be on the lookout and avoid sunscreens with the preceding ingredients, know there are many non-chemical sunscreens available that do the job safely with no impact to your body or the environment.

One of my current faves is Loving Naturals, a non-nano zinc oxide based sunscreen which actually goes on clear. I love this sunscreen as its ingredients are minimal yet effective. For more sunscreen recommendations, visit me at Toxic Beauty Blog.

About The Author:

Robin Adler is an organic beauty blogger dedicated to helping women choose safer cosmetics. It’s her mission to help every woman become a vigilant label reader and delete toxic cosmetics and personal care products from their lives. Please join her at Toxic Beauty Blog to learn how to go green with your beauty routine and for her safe sunscreen recommendations. Download her free report- Label Lies: Secrets of Organic Cosmetics.

Enjoyed this post? Then you may also enjoy these from the archive…

Top 5 Homemade Sunscreen Recipes
Top 5 Best Natural Sunscreens
Make Your Own Essential Oil Travel Pharmacy 

And if you’d like to do some further reading into the dangers of many cosmetics, then here are a couple of books you may enjoy…

No More Dirty Looks: The Truth about Your Beauty Products–and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics
Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry

Plus, if you’d like to help spread the word about these toxic, poisonous and dangerous chemicals then “Pin” the image below to one of your Pinterest boards. There’s a Pin It button within the image so you just have to click that button.

Top 5 Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients


  1. Great post Robin! Stay away from these chemicals everyone, if you must wear protection go for mineral based sunscreens. Me, I wear coconut oil! Works wonders for me and if I am going to be by the pool or on the beach I add in some Red Raspberry Seed Oil

  2. I never even think about the ingredients of sun cream when purchasing them, I just look at the factor and the price. This post has definitely changed my outlook on it.

  3. All I can say is “WOW”! I had no clue that these ingredients were in there and could hurt us. That is insane that they are allowed to market them when, as you said, it’d be safer getting the sunburn than using these sunscreens. This is a great post, because I’m sure that, like me, not many people know this. Thanks for getting the word out, I will def. be on the lookout for these now!

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