Sunscreen Ingredients: Which Ones to Look For and Which Ones to Avoid

Protect your skin from damaging UV rays—as well as exposure to the toxic chemicals found in most sunscreens—by increasing your sunscreen ingredients smarts.


| May/June 2014



Sunscreen Ingredients

Know what ingredients to avoid in your sunscreen to get the most protection.

Photo by iStock

Millions of Americans depend on sunscreen. Protecting our skin from harmful ultraviolet rays is important—UV light can cause skin cancer and prematurely age the skin. Yet, beyond the knowledge that sunscreens can prevent sunburns, for many years little has been known about their safety and efficacy. As researchers have looked at sunscreens more closely, some concerning information has come to light—leaving many of us utterly confused about how to best protect our health. Fortunately, we’re beginning to understand more about which sunscreen ingredients are safe, and with a little education we can feel good about what we’re putting on our family’s skin.

Homemade Sunscreen Recipe

The Sunscreen Facts

Ultimately, a little sun is good for us—a complete lack of sun exposure can lead to a deficiency in vitamin D. We should all aim to absorb about 20 minutes of sun each day. Yet at the same time, we need sunscreen to protect ourselves from the potentially harmful effects of overexposure.

Unfortunately, some of the most popular sunscreens on the market may not be as effective as we’d like and may even be harmful. Scientific evidence shows that some sunscreens only protect against UVB radiation rather than the more harmful UVA. What’s worse, many conventional sunscreens have been found to contain potential carcinogens including oxybenzone, benzophenone and retinyl palmitate. Research shows some of these sunscreen ingredients may actually promote skin cancer growth and free radical cell production in the body—some experts caution that exposure to these toxic ingredients may completely erode the benefits of sunscreen.

Armed with this knowledge, it’s wise to seek out sunscreens that are safest for our skin instead of just buying whatever is cheapest at the local drugstore. To learn how to choose the best sunscreens, read “Sunscreen Shopping Tips” later in this article, or visit the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Sunscreen. Or if you wish to take matters into your own hands, you can make your own sunscreen at home using the Homemade Sunscreen Recipe from Katie, the Wellness Mama. The basic ingredients should be available at your local health-food store; all you need to do is mix it up!

Sunscreen Shopping Tips

• Avoid sunscreens with vitamin A—generally listed as “retinyl palmitate” or “retinol” on labels. It may speed up the development of cancer on skin exposed to sunlight.

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