Sunscreen provides our skin with an extra layer of protection against the harmful effects of sunlight.
Sunlight is the primary source of ultraviolet rays (which can either be UVA or UVB). Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation is a high risk factor for most skin cancers.
It’s not recommended to use too much sunscreen, though, as sunlight provides us with vitamin D, an essential vitamin with several health benefits. Experts recommend 15 to 30 minutes of sunscreen-free exposure two to four times per week, because Vitamin D helps keep bones and teeth strong and supports our immune and nervous system.
Although sunscreens are generally safe, there are some that contain ingredients that pose serious health risks. That being said, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most dangerous ingredients that can be found in some sunscreens. Make sure to avoid products that contain potentially harmful ingredients so you can enjoy the sun without harming your body.
Oxybenzone is commonly found in many commercial sunscreens, and this is precisely the reason why you need to be extra careful when choosing sunscreen brands.
Studies have shown that it’s an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can mimic hormones and may cause endometriosis and other risks to the reproductive system.
Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A that, in excess, has been found to contribute to the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight.
Although vitamin A has several benefits, most of its esters (chemical compounds derived from it) are potentially toxic if not properly utilized.
Octocrylene is used in most chemical sunscreens because it effectively absorbs UV rays. This may sound like a good thing, especially if it’s the first time you’ve heard about it, but it’s potentially harmful to the body, too.
When it absorbs UV rays, it produces free radicals that can damage normal, healthy cells and causes abnormal mutations. It’s readily absorbed by the skin, and the accumulation of octocrylene within the body may be toxic.
Octinoxate is basically the same as octocrylene in the sense that they’re both UVB-absorbing agents. Octinoxate has a different effect on the skin, however.
Some studies have shown that octinoxate can cause adverse skin reactions, such as acne and contact dermatitis, and although this has only been mostly shown to occur in a minority of people who have specific skin allergies, it’s always better to be safe than be sorry later.
This is why the FDA has strictly mandated all manufacturers to follow a maximum strength of 7.5% octinoxate concentration.
Not only can it pose health risks to humans, it is also harmful to animals and the environment.
Homosalate is another UV-absorbing chemical in this list. Much like oxybenzone, homosalate impacts the body’s hormone systems, specifically the estrogen system.
Some studies revealed that homosalate also impacts the production and regulation of androgen and progesterone. Women should pay extra caution to this ingredient, especially if they are pregnant and lactating -- as breast milk contamination is a common form of homosalate poisoning, affecting both mom and child.
Methylisothiazolinone is used as a preservative in many liquid skincare products. It’s often linked to lung toxicity, allergic reactions, and possible neurotoxicity.
High concentrations of methylisothiazolinone, especially those found in sunscreens, can cause skin irritation -- and even chemical burns.
People with existing skin conditions should avoid this ingredient, not only in sunscreens but also in other skincare products.
The use of parabens in cosmetics has been a subject of many debates for many years. Several studies have shown that parabens pose potential health risks, the most alarming of which is cancer.
Studies have shown that parabens have weak estrogen-like properties. Estrogen is a female hormone known to cause breast cells to grow and divide unconditionally. A grave potential result of excessive paraben intake or exposure includes cancer.
Some sunscreens contain phthalates, and although manufacturers won’t outright label them as containing phthalates, it’s still best if you take the time to look at the ingredients list, and see whether there’s something that indicates the addition of phthalates.
Phthalates have a lot of industrial applications. They’re often used to soften PVC plastic and are also used as solvents in cosmetics and other skincare products.
Caution is extremely necessary. Phthalates are highly dangerous as they have been linked to liver, kidney, lung, and reproductive system damage.
Sulfates are found in many sunscreens and are often presented as SLS or SLES. Sulfates in sunscreens are linked with irritation to the eyes, skin, mouth, and lungs. For people with sensitive skin, sulfates may also clog pores and cause acne.
Any product containing a concentration of SLS higher than 1% is very dangerous. So be sure to check your labels.
Sulfates may contain a substance called 1,4-dioxin, a substance known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Although there aren’t any adequate studies that can link this substance to cancer in humans, it’s best to just avoid it because of the potential health risks this substance pose.
When in doubt, the best step to take is to opt for organic products. Sunscreens made of organic ingredients pose little to no health risks, and are not only safe for you -- they are also environmentally-friendly.
Such product is the TreeActiv Safflower Oleosomes Daily Natural Moisturizing Sunscreen, which provides SPF 30 protection, without exposing you to highly dangerous chemical ingredients. It’s infused with Zinc Oxide, one of the safest alternatives to ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate.