5 Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen

Learn about the most common toxin 5 ingredients to avoid in sunscreen, and the best safer options on the market!

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sunscreen ingredients

Sunscreen has been a hot topic recently, and it’s becoming more and more confusing for consumers to choose the right kind. I’ve written a blog post before discussing why I don’t use sunscreen and natural ways to prevent a sunburn, but going this method can be difficult and irrational during the summer or on a beach vacation when we are spending our time outdoors for an extended period of time.

While the sun is not the enemy and vitamin D from sunlight is essential and so beneficial for our health, there IS such a thing as too much of a good thing. This is why I recommend everyone to choose the best kind of sunscreen with the safest ingredients, if they know that they’re at a risk of getting a sunburn.

Unfortunately, so many sunscreens on the market contain toxic chemicals that contribute to hormonal problems and skin issues. Just like food, it’s so important to read the ingredients of all our skin care products because our skin is extremely absorbent, and anything we put on it enters our bloodstream. So what ingredients should we avoid when it comes to sunscreen?

1. Chemical filters 

Okay, so I’m grouping several chemicals under 1 ingredient unbrella, but some of the names you’ll see on the labels include: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. All these chemicals are used to help the sunscreen penetrate in our skin more easily, and even more so when exposed to sunlight. They then accumulate in our bodies, burden our liver, and disrupt our hormones, throwing off our entire endocrine system.

A 2010 study of Swiss mothers by Margaret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich found at least one of these sunscreen chemicals in 85% of milk samples, which shows how much these toxins can be stored in the body and then be exposed to babies! These chemicals may also cause allergic reaction in the body, and produce free radicals that damage our cells and cause cancer.

2. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles

The jury is still out for this one, but nanoparticles are tiny particles that absorb the sun’s radiation. These particles are so small that they may be seeped into the skin and into the bloodstream and cause inflammation in the body. Titanium dioxide is a potential carcinogen, and can cause lung damage when inhaled.

This is a particular concern for me especially with children who regularly put their hands and feet (or anything, really) in their mouths. Also, I’ve accidentally swallowed sunscreen before when I go swimming after applying it on my face so this pertains to adults as well.

3. Spray sunscreen

Yes yes… I know this isn’t really an ingredient. However, I think it’s important to bring up. Spray sunscreen, while being convenient, can easily be inhaled by you and those around you, causing internal harm especially if you are using a chemical based sunscreen. It’s also flammable and can be toxic to the environment. If you read the labels on spray sunscreens, you can read warnings like, “If swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Center right away.” So… no thanks.

4. Retinyl palmitate or retinol

These are forms of Vitamin A that, while may be a great antioxidant on its own, is harmful when used on skin exposed to sunlight. Many skincare manufacturers add this ingredients to their products because they believe that it has anti-aging benefits. However, when it comes in contact with sunlight, retinyl palmitate may speed up the development of skin lesions and tumors. This is because when exposed to UV rays, these antioxidant compounds break down and produce free radicals that damage our DNA and may lead to skin cancer.

5. Parabens

Parabens are used as preservatives in sunscreens, and can be hard to identify because they have many names on the ingredients list. Here are some alternate names to help you locate them better:

Benzyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
Methyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzate)
Ethyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
Propyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
Butyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
Parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)

There are many reasons to avoid parabens. They disrupt hormones, they are associated with breast cancer, induce allergic reactions, and interfere with reproductive and developmental health. Parabens are used in many other skin care products, not just sunscreens, so remember to look out for them on all skin care products you use!

So… which sunscreen should I use?

The safest sunscreens to use are the ones that are formulated with zinc oxide. While chemical sunscreens “aborb” the sun rays and are potentially more dangerous when exposed to UV rays, zinc-based sunscreens physically block the sunlight without the harmful effects. You can do your own research to find the best brand, or take a look at Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s top sunscreens that meet their tough safety criteria.

sunscreen ingredients

My Top Favorite Sunscreens

My favorite sunscreen that’s been working great for me this summer is Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen. It has a EWG rating of 1 (which basically translates to A+) with SPF 30, and I love that it’s not oily and it doesn’t leave white marks on my skin!

If you are need something that’s easy and portable, especially for the face, I highly recommend the Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Stick. It’s one of the best safer stick sunscreens I’ve used, and it goes one CLEAR and not white like others I have tried out!


Beautycounter also recently released a spray sunscreen, which is the only spray sunscreen I use. Unlike the spray versions I mentioned above, Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist is powered by AIR and is not propellant/aerosol-based so it doesn’t cause harm to our health or the environment! I love this product because it spreads so easily so I feel like I don’t need to use as much, all while only containing squeaky clean products!

5 Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen

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