green beauty: sunscreen safety

After hearing distressing reports on the news and internet about dangerous chemicals in sunscreen, I decided to do a little sunscreen research myself. Here’s what I learned:


UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, leading to tanning, wrinkling, leathering, sagging and other effects. UVB rays do not penetrate as deeply and are the main cause of sunburn and tissue damage. UVC rays, yes they do exist, are currently blocked completely by the ozone, but as the ozone layer thins that could change.  


Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the radiation before it reaches the skin. A chemical only blocks UVA or UVB, not both. The most common are:

  • Benzophenones (dioxybenzone, oxybenzone) 
  • PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB,  glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA) 
  • Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate) 
  • Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate) 
  • Digalloyl trioleate 
  • Menthyl anthranilate 
  • Avobenzone [butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane; Parsol 1789]


These chemicals may cause minor skin rashes, irritations and allergic photosensitivities. Also, it has been shown that oxybenzone (and the radiation it absorbed) can seep into the skin, and therefore should not be used on children or pregnant or nursing women. 


At the other end of the spectrum, physical sunscreens actually reflect or scatter the radiation. They block both UVA and UVB rays. Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are the naturally occurring minerals that provide a physical barrier. Though it is possible for someone to have sensitivity or allergy to natural ingredients, those cases are rare. 


So while the jury is still out on the safety of sunscreens, one thing is true: the only three ingredients approved by the FDA for protecting skin are avobenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. 


TIPS for selecting and applying sunscreen:

  • If you’re the “better safe than sorry” type, stick to the FDA-approved ingredients.
  • Make sure the label says UVA/UVB or Broad Spectrum protection
  • Use a minimum SPF 15 (SPF only applies to the UVB rays) 
  • You should apply at least a shot-glass full 30 minutes before exposure. And reapply the same amount every two hours or after swimming or sweating, even if the bottle says waterproof.
  • You should also apply even if it’s cloudy or cold because as much as 40% of the sun’s UV rays can reach the earth’s surface through cloud cover. 

Here are a few brands that offer physical sunscreens which are also free of chemical fragrance and dyes and contain fewer toxic ingredients than conventional products:


Kiss My Face }

Burts Bees }

Aubrey Organics} 

California Baby }


Another option is to wear protective clothing. At you can find affordable T-shirts, polo shirts, swimwear and other gear. 


Now, what are you doing sitting there? Smooth on some sunscreen, grab your hat and shades and go enjoy summer!



[400-500 word article for green beauty blog]

Photo by Antonio Gabola on Unsplash