How to choose a safer sunscreen

Sunscreens – they should protect us, but are they actually doing us more harm? Here are five chemicals you need to avoid when choosing sunscreen


Sunscreen is an important form of protection from the sun’s rays but it should only be one part of a larger strategy.

The most efficient way to keep your family safe from the sun is by following these practical steps.

  • Wear a hat
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Plan activities around the sun and avoiding peak hours
  • Seek out the shade as much as possible
  • Wear 100% UV protection sunglasses – even for babies and kids
  • Apply (and reapply) the right sunscreen 

With so many sunscreens available on the market, deciding which one to buy can be the most confusing part; because the reality is that not all sunscreens are created equal.  In fact, many popular sunscreens today contain ingredients that are actually harmful to humans and to the environment. 

What to avoid when buying sunscreen:

1. Oxybenzone: This chemical has been in the news recently after Hawaii approved a bill banning the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone. The reason? This chemical was been found to be responsible for severely damaging and bleaching coral DNA. 

Oxybenzone is also quite harmful to people.  The main function of oxybenzone is to absorb UV light, the problem is that it is absorbed by the skin and stays in our bodies for an unknown amount of time (and the portion that doesn’t get absorbed damages the ocean’s ecosystem). The reason you don’t want it on or in our bodies is that it’s an endocrine disrupting chemical that may potentially be stronger than BPA.  It has been linked to endometriosis, early puberty in girls, low sperm count and male infertility, and an increase in hormone-related cancers in men and women. 

Unfortunately, Oxybenzone is a very popular ingredient and is found in more than 60% of chemical sunscreens currently on the market. When tested, it was also found that over 96% of the American population was contaminated with the chemical.

2. Octinoxate: This chemical was also banned in Hawaii due to its significant environmental impact.  It has also been shown to mimic hormone like activity – specifically in the thyroid.

3. Retinyl palmitate: A type of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is an antioxidant added to skin products because it is believed to help slow the skin’s aging process. It is safe to use for night creams, which we use while indoors. However, a federal study recently found that Vitamin A might speed the growth of cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight.

3. Homosalate: This popular chemical used to filter UV rays is found in about 45% of all sunscreens in the US.  Unfortunately it is a known  hormone disruptor witch disrupt the hormones estrogen, androgen and progesterone.  

4. Methylisothiazolinone: This common inactive ingredient (that still can make up 40-50% of a sunscreen) –  is a widespread allergen.  In Europe it has been determined that “ no concentration of MI could be considered safe in leave-on cosmetic products (EU SCCS 2014),” but it is still allowed in the US.  

5. Avobenzone: Avobenzone works well at blocking the sun’s dangerous UVA and UVB rays, but only for a short period of time. While on its own avobenzone is not harmful, to extend its ‘work life’ it requires being paired up with other potentially harmful hormone disrupting chemicals. Safer alternatives exist, like zinc oxide.  

Tips for choosing the safest and most effective sunscreen

  • Read the ingredient list!  Make sure you read the ingredient list and avoid the chemicals mentioned above before buying new sunscreen
  • Your safest option will be a mineral sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The main reason being that these create a physical barrier between the sun and your skin and are not absorbed like the other chemicals
  • It is also a good idea to avoid sunscreens not labeled as “Broad Spectrum” or that have low SPF values between 2 and 14. While they help prevent sunburn, they do not help prevent skin cancer or early skin ageing
  • Be cautious with sprays. These could provide an inhalation risk and may not provide a thick and even coating on skin.  They may also expose you to propellant chemicals.  Newer spray technology that use non-aerosol, air powered systems are now starting to become available, allowing parents the huge convenience of spraying their sunscreen on their fidgety kids while keeping things safe

The Tot Sunscreen Pick


We love Erbaviva’s All Natural Baby Sunscreen. A light and silky cream that doesn’t leave unsightly white residue, Erbaviva Sunscreen is perfect for applying to face and body and offers high possible SPF protection possible without use of unwanted chemicals. It’s vegan friendly, sulfate paraben-free and water resistant for up to 80 minutes.