Is Sunscreen Safe?

Have You Ever Wondered What Is In Your Sunscreen?

An image of someone rubbing in sunscreen onto their hand

It is important to ascertain what is in the sunscreen you currently use to know if the sunscreen you use is safe to use repetitively and long term.

If you have not been sure if the ingredients are good for you then read on.

What you put on your skin can ultimately be absorbed inside of your body so at the very least you want to be sure those things will do no harm.

There are a number of ingredients that you need to be aware of before you buy sunscreen.  Some of them aren’t available in the UK but could be in a country you are visiting so please take note to stay as safe as you can.  At the end of the day, if there are no options, it is more important to protect yourself from burning than worry about what you are putting on your skin short term.

The overriding factor is not just what is in the sunscreen you use but also other products that you use.  It can be the combination of all of these things that builds up in your body leading to unwanted effects.  With awareness, you can then decide if you want to reduce your personal exposure to these things.

Although some of the ingredients are safe in themselves, they change when they are exposed to sunlight, that is where things can be more dangerous. What happens is that the molecules become excited and then generate free radicals (these are not good) and can even change our DNA.

Ingredients/Chemicals To Avoid include:

  • Oxybenzone.
  • Avobenzone
  • Benzophenone-3
  • Benzophenone octocrylene.
  • Benzophenone-3, also known as Oxybenzone
  • Cylcopentasiloxane / Cyclomethicon
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Formaldehyde
  • Hydantoin
  • Nanoparticles – these are not available in all countries and their long-term effects are really not yet fully understood so beware.
  • Octocrylene
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate.
  • PABA – Widely banned but double check if buying overseas.
  • PBI
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Quaternium-15, DMDM
  • Titanium dioxide Nanoparticles
A laboratory set up with someone holding a small jar with blue chemical liquid in it for a blog answering the question 'is sunscreen safe?'
Check the back of your sun cream bottle to check if it contains any of these chemicals.


I’m sure this won’t be an exhaustive list and new chemicals will be introduced over the years so if in doubt a quick internet search or the ‘ingredient’ will bring up current information for you (just the small matter of the eye squinting at the small print and extremely long indecipherable word to spell out…)

What's So Bad About These Chemicals?

A lady holding plastic mouldings of chemical symbols for a blog about whther sunscreen is safe

Without going into infinitesimal details, the main take-home message here is that:

  1. Your skin will absorb what you put on it.
  2. Many of these ingredients will pass from your skin into your bloodstream (or via your lungs if you use sprays)
  3. This can then create several effects internally, the most frequent being:
  • Disrupting the hormone systems in your body.
  • Adding to your chemical burden.  Organs such as your liver and kidneys will need to break them down and expel them from your body.  If your body can’t get rid of these things, then the levels build up in your body.  One defense mechanism is to store the chemicals in fat to keep you safe.
  • They can potentially be carcinogenic, cancer-causing examples being oxybenzone and avobenzone.
  • You can get allergic skin reactions.


If you would like to find out more of the known effects of individual chemicals then this is a great article about the problems sunscreen chemicals can cause.

Further Reading

Remember no matter what you are using on your skin it is still important to practise sun safety.

It may be that you are just keen to start using reef-safe chemical-free sunscreens if so here are some great companies to get you started.

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