How Safe Are The Ingredients In Sunscreens?

By: Gen Wright


When people go to the store to buy sunscreen, they assume that the products they purchase are safe and effective. Whether you purchase sunscreen for trips to the beach, lounging poolside, or for everyday protection against the sun's rays, you probably expect to be able to rely on your sunscreen to protect you from sun damage.

The reality, however, is that the majority of sunscreens in the United States offer inadequate protection from the sun. Many of them also contain ingredients that are harmful to our health.

Harmful Ingredients


When you consider the fact that many Americans rely on sunscreens to protect them from sunburns and skin cancer, it is a bit shocking to realize that some manufacturers use ingredients that are actually harmful to our health.

Approximately 1 out of every 9 brands of sunscreen does not offer protection from UVA radiation. UVA rays are the ones that are linked to immune system problems, skin damage and aging, and possibly skin cancer. Though the FDA does not currently require that manufacturers include protection from UVA radiation, the better sunscreens offer it anyway.

UVB rays cause sunburn, and while most sunscreens do provide at least some protection against these harmful rays, most of the products contain ingredients that break down in the sun. These chemical breakdowns can occur in minutes or hours, and when it happens, UV radiation gets through to our skin. In fact, some of the chemicals in sunscreens release free radicals in sunlight, causing damage to our DNA and cells. Others build up over time in our bodies or the environment.

Keeping this in mind, consumers would be wise to exercise caution when relying on sunscreen labels to determine how long their sunscreen is going to be effective, or if it is actually going to be effective at all.

Independent research has shown that there are more than 600 products on the market containing sunscreens that are unstable and break down in the sun. Some of these unstable ingredients are:


  • Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate)

  • Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3)

  • Avobenzone (Parsol 1789, Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane)

  • Nano titanium dioxide


How to find safe Sunscreens


If you want to find the safest sunscreens, you can check out the Environmental Working Group's website. The EWG is a non-profit organization that provides information to help protect public health and the environment. They recommend several different brands of sunscreens that they have tested. They also provide complete breakdowns of the ingredients in each product tested so that consumers can clearly see which ingredients pose a certain risk and learn why they are hazardous.

It is difficult to guess at what the far-reaching health implications may be regarding our continuous exposure to the hazardous chemicals that are used in so many sunscreens. Companies are not required by the federal government to test the ingredients that they are putting into sunscreens before they put them on the market, so it is difficult to tell at this point just how damaging these products may wind up being.

To be safe, do your research before purchasing any products. Staying informed is the best way to keep your family, and yourself, safe and healthy.

By Jamell Andrews

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Jamell Andrews, a graduate from CSU Fullerton, majored in Language Arts and authors numerous articles on parenting for the popular journal site Parenting-Journals.com. She also believes in the many uses of gripe water to help treat colic crying babies.

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