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Beware of sunscreens containing harmful ingredients

Updated on January 3, 2017

Is your sunscreen safe or does it actually increase the risk of cancer?

For many of us summer is the favorite time of the year. We enjoy blue skies, warming sun, longer days and the opportunity to spend many hours outside. Unfortunately this also means an increased risk of skin cancer. To prevent the sun from damaging the skin, our body’s biggest organ, we slather on sunscreen in the false belief that we are safe. We trust the promises of huge corporations with fat marketing budgets and buy anything with a cool name, a fashionable container or a high SPF, especially if it’s advertised as broad spectrum or recommended for kids. After all it’s FDA approved – isn’t it? The shocking truth is, that until recently the FDA did not do enough to protect the consumer. The new and legally binding FDA sunscreen regulations governing the labeling and marketing of sunscreens were delayed several times and only came into effect recently. Now, it's up to the consumer to read the labels properly and to make an informed choice. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an independent US study group consisting of scientific and legal experts which tirelessly research and expose environmental and health hazards that affect the well-being of the unsuspecting consumer.

How to check if your sunscreen contains harmful ingredients?

Just enter the name of your favorite sunscreen in the EWG database below and find out instantly if it is safe to use.

The study results in a nutshell (257 brands and over 1’800 products tested):

Many sunscreens still contain the following harmful ingredients:

  • Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A: May increase the risk of skin cancer on skin exposed to the sun
  • Fragrances. May cause allergies or other serious health problems
  • Oxybenzone: A synthetic estrogen and hormone-disrupting chemical

  • Many sunscreens falsely marketed for babies, children or kids may contain these harmful chemicals and may therefore not be safe for their use.
  • A high SPF rating may give consumers a false sense of security making them believe they only have to reapply sunscreen after a longer period or that they can stay in the sun longer. Many sunscreens falsely advertise a high SPF rating!
  • Some sunscreens with a high SPF rating may protect the user against harmful UVB rays but not against UVA rays which lead to skin damage and premature aging.
  • Some sunscreens rated broad spectrum in the US are considered too weak for the European market and therefore banned in Europe.
  • Sprays or powders are not recommended as they provide uneven coverage and pose a risk to the lung due to inhalation of damaging nanoparticles.


The EWG recommends mineral sunscreens with the following ingredients:

  • Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide (non nanoparticles only), avobenzone or Mexoryl SX

Avoid sunscreens with the following ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone, synthetic estrogen
  • Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate)
  • Insect repellent

Avoid sunscreens

  • which come in spray or powder form (with nanoparticle ingredients) and products which advertise an SPF above 50+

EWGs surprising findings:

  • Many sunscreens are not protecting the users against skin cancer and may even increase the risk.
  • A higher SPF does not necessarily mean that the product is better.
  • Too little exposure to the sun is also unhealthy and may lead to dangerous vitamin D deficiency.
  • Vitamin A additives can actually increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • Some sunscreens contain nanomaterials and potential hormone disrupters and may release skin damaging free radicals.
  • The European market allows more ingredients than the FDA. This results in Europe having better sunscreens than the US.

Light, loose fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat offer cool and fashionable sun protection and don't make you feel hotter than a T-shirt & shorts.
Light, loose fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat offer cool and fashionable sun protection and don't make you feel hotter than a T-shirt & shorts. | Source


  • Cosmetics are a billion dollar business and it’s up to you to read the labels in order to find out if a sunscreen product is good or harmful to your health.
  • The best and cheapest recommendation is to reduce sun exposure between 11 am and 4 pm on days with a UV index of 3 and more and to seek shade.
  • Long, light and lose fitting clothing, wide-brimmed hats and protective sunglasses may not look cool but they definitely keep you cool and well protected from harmful UV rays as well as from insect bites.

Protecting your family from harmful UV rays is your responsibility!

"Father Protecting Family From Sun" by smarnad
"Father Protecting Family From Sun" by smarnad | Source

Skin cancer protection

How do you protect yourself and your family from skin cancer?

See results

How to Protect your Skin from the Sun

How to Understand Sunscreen SPF


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    • vespawoolf profile image


      6 years ago from Peru, South America

      This subject has always concerned me as we live in southern Peru and are often exposed to the harsh sun. I'm happy to say my sunscreen complies with all the requirements you mention. We also wear hats and/or carry an umbrella. Not fun, but definitely better than the alternative. Thanks for an informative and very useful hub! Voted up and shared.

    • eHealer profile image


      6 years ago from Las Vegas

      Excellent hub! Zinc oxide is such a great sunscreen, but only the brave wear it on the beach. Such a shame! Thanks for the great Hub!

    • BritInTexas profile image


      6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas

      Scary stuff! It's interesting about the Vitamin A additive - most of us tend to think that when something has an added vitamin, it's more beneficial to us. Considering the billions of dollars that cigarette companies have had to pay out in lawsuits by people from the baby boom years, who developed emphysema, COPD, and heart disease from smoking, and who claimed that back in their youth, the warnings weren't obvious, one has to wonder just how many lawsuits sunscreen manufacturers are going to be facing when, God forbid, people who have religiously 'slipped, slapped and slopped' the suncream on, start developing skin cancers.

      Great informative article!

    • dghbrh profile image


      6 years ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

      informative and useful as well as time relevant.

      voted up and shared....:-)

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I've been using the EWG database for 1 1/2 years and it is an invaluable resource for finding non-toxic substitutes. They are planning on adding household cleaning products which I think would be extremely helpful. It would be nice to find a sunscreen that was easier to apply and did not make me look like a ghost so I will try others but these days I pick health over appearance.Thanks for the tip about the lip balm...yes everything is absorbed through the skin and the mouth. I was amazed when I learned how many toxins are in the average lip stick. Thanks!!

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Hi Healthylife. We actually had to do some major research as my husband is suffering from skin cancer and he used to soak himself with the stuff. I started reading about the toxic chemicals that get absorbed through your skin in a health magazine and also found the EWG link there. We've been using Badger sunscreen ever since. It's made from all natural ingredients and actually smells like food. However, the downside is that it makes you look quite white, as you mention, and it does not go on as easy as the average commercial sunscreen. We are also using the Badger lip balm and are very happy with it. Lip balm easily gets absorbed through the mouth and it's great to know that it's all natural and non-toxic (most other brands are not...)

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      This a helpful and timely article. Sunscreen is one more product to be cautious about since for many people it is used almost daily in the Summer and used on children. Have you found a safe one that works? I tried one that was nontoxic and completely safe but made me look even whiter than I already am after being rubbed in and didn't smell the greatest so I will be trying others.


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