Top 5 Toxins to Avoid in Your Sunscreen

Posted by Karalynne Call on

As spring heats up and we start to see summer on the horizon, it’s time to talk sunscreen! What makes the best sunscreen? And, why does it matter? What toxic ingredients should you avoid? What SPF should you use? And of course, we’ll visit the popular sunscreen debate: lotion vs. spray. Then, we’ll wrap it all up by sharing a few of our favorite non-toxic sunscreens.

I’m excited to bring you this all-natural sunscreen lowdown in partnership with Dr. Vivian Chen from Plateful Health. Dr. Chen is a California-based allopathic doctor and advocate for non-toxic living. You can find her on Instagram at

Is sunscreen bad for you?

recent study published in JAMA showed that chemical ingredients from sunscreen were detected in the bloodstream after one single use. And sometimes, these chemicals even hang around for days after application. The study went on to prove that these toxic ingredients are also found in a woman’s breast milk after sunscreen use. 

When you think about it, it makes sense. Sunscreen is something we apply all over our bodies, and reapply at frequent intervals. While we know it’s important to protect our skin from damaging sun rays, how can we do that safely? 

Top 5 Toxic Ingredients in Sunscreen

  1. Oxybenzone (aka benzophenone-3). Oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor. This means it interferes with your hormones and affects your body’s ability to regulate biological processes. Oxybenzone is also associated with lower testosterone in teenage boys. It’s considered a contact allergen and contributes to organ toxicity in animals. Not to mention, it’s incredibly harmful to reef life. Because of this, oxybenzone was recently banned in Hawaii and Key West.
  2. Octinoxate (aka OMC). Another toxin banned in Hawaii and Key West, octinoxate is linked to endocrine disruption as well. It’s also been linked to reproductive toxicity in recent animal studies. If it’s being banned for the safety of marine life, chances are it’s not good for human life either.
  3. Homosalate. Linked to both reproductive and developmental toxicity, homosalate is an organic compound that can also cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. While this chemical absorbs UV light to protect your skin from damaging sun rays, a study found that when human breast cancer cells were exposed to homosalate, they grew and multiplied 3.5 times more than normal.
  4. Parabens. Parabens can disrupt hormone function as well, which has been linked to a higher risk for breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. In 2012, the European Union banned parabens, but they’re still considered legal in the US today. My best advice is to always read your labels to watch out for these harmful synthetic compounds.
  5. PhthalatesMore endocrine disruptors! Phthalates can hide under the guise of “fragrance.” Because fragrance “recipes” are considered proprietary, they are not legally required to be disclosed on labels. That being said, I recommend reading your labels closely to vet for these guys. 

What SPF should I use? 

First, let’s break down what SPF is. SPF, Sun Protection Factor, indicates the amount of protection against UVB, not UVA. UVB and UVA are both UV rays from the sun, however UVB rays cause sunburn and are the biggest contributing factor to skin cancer, whereas UVA rays play a more minor role in causing skin cancer, but penetrate the skin more deeply which leads to premature skin aging.

Now, onto selecting the best SPF for you. Studies have shown that SPF over SPF 50 may not offer much additional benefit or protection. While of course, keep this in mind when selecting your SPF, it’s even more important to look for a “Broad Spectrum” sunscreen. This indicates protection against both UVB and UVA rays. So my advice, prioritize a Broad Spectrum sunscreen, then stick around 50 SPF.

Should I use spray or lotion sunscreen?

Spray sunscreen may not offer adequate coating and protection. Additionally, sunscreen sprays may pose chemical inhalation risks. I suggest using a lotion to mitigate those risks,  and you’ll have more control over how much and where you can rub it in. Although a little more work, sunscreen lotions offer more protection in the long run. 

Safe Sunscreens for Your Family

Sunlight is so important for our health. After all, it’s the best and most natural way to get our Vitamin D. Keeping that in mind though, it’s also important to practice safe sun care to prevent sunburn and skin damage. Especially when you’re going to be in the sun for a long period of time. 

To keep you and your family safe and healthy, Dr. Chen and I are sharing some of our favorite safe sunscreen options. These are ALL reef safe too! Note that what we’ve shared below is not a comprehensive list of toxin-free sunscreens – these are just our favorites and some of the best sunscreens on the market.

Safe Sunscreens for Babies & Kids

Safe Sunscreens for Adults

Read Your Labels

One final thing to note – not all sunscreens are created equal, including baby sunscreens. Whatever brand you choose, be sure to vet your products using the guidelines above and avoid falling prey to misleading marketing tactics.

Let me know in the comments below what sunscreens you’ve tried and which ones are your family’s favorite. Wishing you a safe and happy summer!

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