By Julia Beyer - April 7, 2019
Reading the lists of ingredients on conventional sunscreens resembles the attempt to decipher Egyptian hyroglyphs – very little chance for the layman to understand anything at all except gibberish.
As we know from a study by Bohman (2016), 63% of ingredients in the most popular sunscreens in Europe are classified as dangerous for human health and/or the environment. In this article you find the six UV-filters classified as the most toxic which you should avoid in your sunscreen.
Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid
If you find any of the following ingredients in your sunscreen (or other cosmetics), we suggest you dump it immediately. They’re either toxic for you or the planet, or both. The list is in the order of the toxicity ranking of these ingredients according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Oxybenzone / Benzophenone-3 (BP-3)
High risk. One of the two UV-filters with the highest toxicity score. Banned both on Hawaii, in Palau and in various national parks in Mexico because of studies showing its links to coral reef bleaching and inhibiting the growth of new coral larvae. In humans, it can be detected in the blood stream and urine. It is considered a estrogene-mimicking ingredients that potentially causes infertility in men and was linked to decreased birth weight.
Octinoxate / Octylmethoxycinnamate (OMC)
Moderate risk. Bio-accumulates in human bodies, potentially disrupting reproduction hormones such as estrogen, androgen and progesterone. Impairs the growth of marine wildlife such as sea orchids.
Octisalate / Ethylhexyl Salicylate
Moderate risk. Likely to cause skin irritations and immune reactions in humans. Possibly eco-toxic.
Octocrylene / 2-Ethylhexyl Ester
Moderate risk. High rates of photocontact allergies which means it can result in irritations and eczema when skin comes in contact with both Octocrylene and sunlight. Included in the ban of sunscreen ingredients in Palau.
Low risk. This UV-filter causes high rates of irritation and is not photostable which means formulas containing Avobenzone need to include stabilizers like Octisalate – which you find a bit higher up in our list as a toxic ingredient.
Important: Also Zinc Oxide (and Titanium Dioxide) have been linked to health concerns but only when used in sprays due to inhalation risks. Zinc Oxide is currently the approved UV-filter with the lowest toxicity, the highest effectivity (broad spectrum protection) and high photostability which is why it is the only UV-filter we use in our safe natural sunscreens.
How do You Find a Safe Sunscreen?
How do You Check an Ingredient That is Not on This List?
Sunscreens that are not listed on EWG’s database are of course not necessarily dangerous. And not all ingredients that you don’t recognize are bad. When you don’t recognize them the only reason might be that they’re listed with their INCI name (the official international nomenclature used to uniquely identify ingredients in cosmetics).
For example Butyrospermum Parkii Butter is simply Shea Butter, one of the natural ingredients we use in most of our completely safe skin care products.
Natural ingredients can typically be identified by their ending: “oil”, “butter” or “extract”. Then there is a few ingredients that sound intimidating but are actually not, for example CI 77492 is simply Iron Oxide, a natural colorant we use in one of our zinc sunscreens (the red one).
You can use the Cosing Database, a database offered by the European Commission, to find out which ingredients are behind INCI names you don’t recognize.
To find out whether a specific ingredient that is not on our list is linked to any health or environmental concerns, you can consult the EWG Skin Deep Database. There you will find which function an ingredient fulfills in cosmetics and which safety concerns it is associated with, complemented by scientific references.
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