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Ingredients In Sunscreen

...Know What's Safe & Which Chemicals To Avoid

Ingredients in you ever read the label on the bottle? Neither did I, but I will now that I know some chemicals can harm you.

When shopping for sun protection, it is important to take a close look at the ingredients in sunscreen. There are two types of sunscreen available, chemical, and natural. Chemical sunscreens are designed to absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays. Once absorbed, they convert the rays to something less harmful. Natural sunscreens, on the other hand, are designed to reflect ultraviolet rays. They form a protective barrier on the skin, preventing harmful rays from penetrating it.

Chemical Sunscreens

There are some health concerns with chemical sunscreens, the main concern being the potential harmful effects of the ingredients. Many chemicals used in these products are themselves carcinogenic. Some also interrupt hormone function, which has been linked to increased cancer risk. According to a study published in a 1992 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, skin cancer rates were statistically higher in countries where chemical sunscreens are heavily promoted.

Some Harmful Yet Common Chemical Ingredients In Sunscreen

  1. Benzophenone or one of its derivatives is commonly found in the ingredients of sunscreen. Studies have shown that exposure to this chemical resulted in higher rates of cancer. When it is exposed to UV radiation, it converts into free radicals, which damage the skin on a cellular level. It also causes an abnormal sensitivity to light (photosensitivity).
  2. PABA and PABA esters are also common culprits. In studies, these chemicals attacked the DNA of cells, causing mutation of the cells. These mutations resulted in decreased immune function and an photosensitivity.
  3. 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate and homosalate had estrogenic effects on the body when used in sunscreen. The hormonal effect led to above average growth of cancer cells.

Natural Sunscreens

Typically, natural sunscreens contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide sunscreen is one of the best ingredients in sunscreen as it has the most effective broad-spectrum, covering from 290 to 380 nm, the full spectrum of UVA and UVB rays. Zinc oxide has the added benefit of being beneficial to your skin. Zinc has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and healing properties.

Titanium dioxide also offers broad-spectrum protection. However, it is a little less effective than zinc oxide. While it does block short UVA and all UVB rays, longer UVA rays may penetrate the protective barrier. For this reason, it is often combined with zinc oxide or another natural UVA barrier.

Are These Safe Sunscreens?

Unlike chemical sunscreens, which are designed to absorb into the skin, natural sunscreens sit on top of the skin. Since the ingredients in natural sunscreens do not absorb into the skin, they do not cause the problems associated with chemical sunscreens. The design also ensures more effective sun protection.

Organic Sunscreen

Contrary to what many people believe, there is a difference between natural and organic sunscreens. They are similar, though, in the mechanism by which they work. Both types work by forming a protective barrier against UV radiation.

The difference lies in the ingredients in sunscreen. Organic sunscreens do not contain any chemicals. This means they do not have artificial fragrances, coloring, or preservatives. This distinct difference is why organic sunscreens are a better choice for those who have sensitive skin or who are prone to allergic reactions when exposed to chemicals.

The Nanoparticle Scare

A growing concern with natural sunscreens is nanoparticles. These are considered to be ultrafine particles sized between 1 and 100 nanometers. Originally, when zinc oxide and titanium dioxide first began being used in sunscreens, they retained their original white color - similar to people skiing with white noses, cheeks and lips. However, for aesthetic reasons, manufacturers of sun protection products began using them in nanoparticle form. This reduced the visibility of the ingredients, but allowed the product to retain its sun protection properties.

The concern is that by reducing the size of the particles, they could then absorb into the skin. In 2006, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Association, similar to the US Food & Drug Administration, reviewed the scientific literature available on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles. They found that there were isolated studies that indicated these ingredients could result in free radical formation and cellular damage if absorbed into the skin. However, they concluded that evidence of studies to date have indicated that the nanoparticles remain on the surface and outer layer of the skin, where they are unable to cause these issues.


When it comes to your health, knowing the potential benefits and risks of anything you use is key. Depending on the sunscreen you choose, the ingredients in sunscreen may help or hurt you. You need to be sure you know which one you are getting.

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