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Sunscreen: how to choose

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

The majority of sunscreens currently on the market are full of questionable ingredients and known carcinogens. Simply looking at the ingredients you'll quickly realize that you don't recognize any of them. Many existing sunscreens have been brought to market with little concern for their safety. Not only do the ingredients in sunscreen interact with skin, but data shows that after application of lotions, some of the same chemicals can be detected in the bloodstream. Most people wear sunscreen to reduce the chance of developing cancer, so why apply something that could potentially increase this risk? This question has unfortunately left many people moving away from using sunscreen at all.

It is clear that you need to pay close attention to whatever ingredients that might be contained within your little bottles of wonders. You might find yourself feeling dizzy and crosseyed after scanning the ingredients list (like I did), if it’s even there on the bottle at all.

So why am I writing about this now? Because after coming to Shoppers to buy a sun screen, I got confused with enormous number of products available. I decided to do my homework and research on which sunscreen product I can call the most safe and efficient.

First of all a quick guide to sunscreens:

There are two types of harmful sun rays: UVA-aging rays, and UVB-burning rays. While UVA rays don't cause sunburn, they penetrate deeply into skin and cause wrinkles. 90% of skin changes associated with aging are really caused by a lifetime's exposure to UVA rays. Clearly, you'll want a sunscreen with broad-spectrum or multi-spectrum protection for both UVB and UVA rays. The SPF factor rates how effective the sunscreen is in preventing sunburn caused by UVB rays only. If you'd normally burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15, meaning you could go 150 minutes before burning.

For the vast majority of people, SPF 15 is fine. But people who have very fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, or conditions like lupus that increase sensitivity to sunlight should consider SPF 30 or higher. Keep in mind that the higher the SPF, the smaller the increased benefit: contrary to what you might think, SPF 30 isn't twice as strong as SPF 15. While SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB, SPF 30 filters out 97%,which is only a slight improvement. There are advises against using spray sunscreens since they often don’t offer even protection and pose inhalation risks, as well as SPF values higher than 50+ because they offer users a false sense of security.

I found this table to be very informative:

There are two major types of sunscreens: chemical and mineral.

I investigated chemical first.

Since avobenzone and octocrylene are the only two that cover both rays types lets have a closer look at them.

Avobenzone was introduced in the 1990s and is a common chemical sunscreen. Unlike other chemical sunscreens that just protect from the sunburn-causing UVB rays, avobenzone also protects from UVA rays, the rays that cause premature aging and skin cancer. This chemical is given a two rating by the EWG. So what’s wrong with avobenzone? It seems like a safe sunscreen, right?

What’s wrong with avobenzone?

Avobenzone, by itself, is relatively safe in terms of toxicity, but it breaks down quickly in the sun. Once exposed to the sun, avobenzone alone only offers about 30 minutes of protection.[i] Since UVA rays are the sneaky rays that do their damage deep within the layers of your skin, you wouldn’t even know it until many years later.

Why is avobenzone used in sunscreen?

So maybe you’re asking why they don’t they just use an ingredient that is better friends with the sunshine. We wish we knew! Because many chemical sunscreen companies still use avobenzone for UVA protection, they then have to add not-so-safe chemicals like octocrylene to make it work longer than 30 minutes.[ii] Octocrylene helps stabilize avobenzone, which is good, but it is a known endocrine disruptor that also releases free radicals.[iii] Not good. Skin sample tests showed there were more free radicals when using octocrylene than skin exposed to the sun with no sunscreen at all.[iv] And remember, free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), can damage skin cells and increase the risk for cancer and other health issues.[v]

Helioplex is a formulation of broad-spectrum ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) skin protection containing avobenzone and oxybenzone made by Neutrogena.

Avobenzone-containing products have decreasing efficiency after a few hours of sun exposure, but the manufacturer claims that the addition of oxybenzone reduces the amount of degradation that occurs.[1]

Aveeno advertises its products using this formulation under a different name of "Active Photobarrier Complex."

According to the EWG, oxybenzone is found in 80 percent of chemical sunscreens. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected oxybenzone in more than 96 percent of the U.S. population, with higher concentrations found during the summer months.


Oxybenzone is clearly a prolific ingredient, and it is worthwhile to look into the potential dangers of something that finds its way in to the majority of people's bodies.

The EWG has rated oxybenzone an 8 on their toxicity rating scale, meaning it is one of the most toxic ingredients found in cosmetic products. The EWG and other toxicology experts are concerned about the compound because it has been linked to hormone disruption and has the potential to damage cells that may lead to skin cancer.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as oxybenzone may mimic hormones, cause endometriosis and can pose a risk to reproductive systems. Oxybenzone has been increasingly linked to early puberty in girls, low sperm count and male infertility, and an increase in hormone-related cancers in men and women. Most shocking, it has been stated that oxybenzone is even more strongly estrogenic than BPA according to says researcher Kurunthachalam Kannan, PhD, Oxybenzone is also one of the biggest offenders of allergic skin reactions, and was named “Allergen of the Year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2014.

Aveeno advertises its products using avobenzone and oxybenzone formulation under a different name of "Active Photobarrier Complex."


Ecamsule (USAN, trade name Mexoryl SX, INCI terephthalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid) is an organic compoundwhich is added to many sunscreens to filter out UVA rays. It is a benzylidene camphor derivative, many of which are known for their excellent photostability.[2]

Ecamsule has little percutaneous absorption and little systemic effects, therefore it is considered relatively safe.[11] A mouse study shows that it does not increase the probability of promoting skin cancer.[12] Studies done in vitro show that it is not photomutagenic.[13]

Because ecamsule is an acid it needs to be neutralized in order to be used without offsetting the final pH of the sunscreen too much. Usually this is done with triethanolamine.

Now pay attention!

Allergic reaction

In 1996 study found that triethanolamine (TEOA) occasionally causes contact allergy.[11] A 2001 study found TEOA in a sunscreen caused an allergic contact dermatitis.[12] A 2007 study found TEOA in ear drops caused a contact allergy.[13]Systemic and respiratory tract (RT) toxicity was analyzed for 28 days in a nose specific inhalation 2008 study in Wistar rats; TEOA seems to be less potent in regard to systemic toxicity and RT irritancy than diethanolamine (DEA). Exposure to TEOA resulted in focal inflammation, starting in single male animals from 20 mg/m3 concentrations.[14]

A 2009 study stated that patch test reactions reveal a slight irritant potential instead of a true allergic response in several cases, and also indicated the risk of skin sensitization to TEOA seems to be very low.[15]


Reports indicated that TEOA causes an increased incidence of tumor growth in the liver in female B6C3F1 mice, but not in male mice or in Fischer 344 rats.[16] A 2004 study concluded "TEOA may cause liver tumors in mice via a choline-depletion mode of action and that this effect is likely caused by the inhibition of choline uptake by cells."[16]

Environmental toxicity[edit]

A 2009 study found that TEOA has potential acute, sub-chronic and chronic toxicity properties in respect to aquatic species.[17]


When choosing your sunscreen, choose a mineral sunscreen which contains sunscreen agents that sit on top of your skin rather than soaking into your body.

Most importantly: Read the ingredients!!

This is what I have done:

I took three products :

Clinic broad spectrum mineral sunscreen($35 50 ml),

NIA 24 broad spectrum ($54 73 ml) 100% mineral

Think baby mineral $20 for 90 mil to investigate their ingredients.

Nia 24 ingredients:

Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide 7.064%, Zinc Oxide 14.00%. Inactive Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Eau), Cyclopentasiloxane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Myristyl Nicotinate, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, Neopentyl Glycol Diheptanoate, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Polyglyceryl-4 Isostearate, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Hexyl Laurate, Stearic Acid, Polyglyceryl-3 Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone, Cetyl Alcohol, Magnesium Sulfate, Caprylyl Glycol, Alumina, Tocopheryl Acetate, Bisabolol, Parfum (Fragrance), Dimethiconol, Isostearic Acid, Lecithin, Polyglyceryl-3 Polyricinoleate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Aluminum Hydroxide, Benzotriazolyl Dodecyl p-Cresol, Polysilicone-11, Disodium EDTA.

Clinic broad spectrum mineral sunscreen($37 50 ml

Titanium Dioxide 6.3% , Zinc Oxide 4.0%Ingredients: Water\Aqua\Eau , Dimethicone , Butyloctyl Salicylate , Polydiethylsiloxane , C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate , Isononyl Isononanoate , Diethylhexyl Succinate , Neopentyl Glycol Diheptanoate , Methyl Trimethicone , Butylene Glycol , Ethylhexyl Methoxycrylene , Lauryl Peg-9 Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone , Silica , Dipentaerythrityl Tri-Polyhydroxystearate , Laureth-4 , Cetyl Peg/Ppg-10/1 Dimethicone , Dimethicone/Peg-10/15 Crosspolymer , Dimethicone Silylate , Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/Pvp Crosspolymer , Triethoxycaprylylsilane , Dimethicone Crosspolymer-3 , Isostearic Acid , Caprylyl Glycol , Polyhydroxystearic Acid , Dipropylene Glycol , Phenoxyethanol , Iron Oxides (Ci 77492) , Iron Oxides (Ci 77491)

Thinkbaby mineral ingredients:


Ingredients: Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide 20% . Inactive Ingredients: Purified water (0), aloe barbadensis leaf juice extract (0), capric caprylic triglycerides (0), sorbitan stearate (coconut based) (1), methyl abietate (pine wood resin) (0), vegetable glycerin (0), cetyl dimethicone (0), hydrogenated castor oil (0), magnesium sulfate (epsom salt) (0), sunflower oil (0), jojoba oil (0), ascorbic acid (vitamin C) (0), tocopherols (vitamin E) (1), olive oil (0), raspberry seed oil (0), cranberry seed oil (0), hyaluronic acid (made from vegetable) (0), glucose oxidase & lactoperoxidate (0), papaya (0).:

Harmful ingredients found:

Butylene Glycol can cause depression, drowsiness, dermatitis, hives

Peg-10/15 speed up skin aging

Dipropylene Glycol -irritant

phenoxyethanol - can cause skin and lung irritation. It's also toxic to the kidneys, nervous system, and liver, and repeated, long-term exposure can cause organ damage. It notes that toxic effects can occur through inhalation, skin exposure, and ingestion.

Dimethicone people prone to acne or with oily skin are more likely to see increased blackheads and breakouts when using products containing this ingredient.

Benzophenones are ultraviolet light filters that have been documented to cause a variety of adverse skin reactions, including contact and photocontact dermatitis, contact and photocontact urticaria, and anaphylaxis. Recently, they have become especially well known for their ability to induce allergy and photoallergy. Topical sunscreens and other cosmetics are the sources of these allergens in the majority of patients, however reports of reactions secondary to use of industrial products also exist. Benzophenones as a group have been named by the American Contact Dermatitis Society's Allergen of the Year for 2014 to raise awareness of both allergy and photoallergy to these ubiquitous agents

Mineral Light Mattifying Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ 1.7oz

Avène´s mineral sunscreen is specifically made for acne-prone, oily skin. It won’t clog pores or leave a white cast, and it shouldn’t trigger allergic reactions. Users who self-report that they have sensitive skin conditions report success using this product. It’s even safe enough for children over the age of six months.

Active Ingredients: Octinoxate 6%, Octocrylene 6%, Titanium Dioxide 1.5%, Zinc Oxide 3%

Inactive Ingredients: Shea Butter Ethyl Esters, Ceresin, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Hydrogenated Polydecene, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Polyethylene, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Ethyl Macadamiate, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Octyldodecanol, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract, Water, Glycerin, Silica, Kaolin, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Hyaluronic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate

So this is my conclusion:

Pricey sunscreens are not necessarily safer. Buy a mineral base sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium oxide listed as active ingredients. Try to find the whole list of ingredients. I bought THINKBABY sunscreen as my skin is not prone to acne. For those who have acne prone skin I would recommend: Mineral Light Mattifying Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ but it is around $30 for only 1.7 oz.

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