What are the BAD Ingredients in Sunscreens?

The FDA recently reviewed some of the common ingredients in sunscreens sold in the US and guess what they found? The need to do more studies

I have come to realize that there must be more to know any time I see statements like “current research is inconclusive of…” or “more research is needed to analyze the safety of…” Think about it. A study to look at the safety of a substance ultimately finds more research should be done and we can’t reach a decision at this time.

And now parents like us are left to weed through the findings that do exist regarding whether or not chemicals in sunscreens might be dangerous.

In the case of sunscreen, I’ve known about a few of the harmful chemicals in sunscreens since before my kids were born and so I instinctively went with a safe brand I trust over the more popular, readily available, recognized names. But when I read the latest from the FDA about the other active and inactive ingredients in sunscreens, I decided to tell my fellow Mamas what the deal is!

The Harmful Chemicals in Common Sunscreens

The non-profit organization, Environmental Working Group (EWG), is dedicated to uncovering the dangers which Americans are being exposed to and corporations are trying to cover up. The organization, which is well-known for its reputable research analyses, has several times brought into question the FDA’s stance on chemical ingredients in sunscreens. They’ve taken it upon themselves to inform the public and concerned parents about the chemicals in sunscreens which have lacking safety studies.

Based on information found on the EWG website and its cited sources, here are the most harmful ingredients found in popular brands of sunscreens and why they are bad, or at the very least–have the potential to do harm to our kids!

The information found here should not be a substitute for seeking the advice of a medical professional before beginning any lifestyle change or taking supplements. This post contains affiliate links and you can read the full affiliate disclosure here.

Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate, or retinol, is the same ingredient found in acne medication. You know, the one that says not to be used on children and pregnant or breastfeeding women! Retinyl palmitate has been shown to have negative, skin-damaging, even carcinogenic effects when exposed to UV sunlight. [see sources at the end of this post]


This is one ingredient you probably recognize as being harmful and yet in a lot of products! Of the many concerns with this chemical, oxybenzone is estrogen-like and can likely disrupt hormones in the body. Not something you want happening to young children. The chemical is also actually banned in some regions due to its damaging effects to coral reefs and aquatic life!

Octyl methoxycinnamate

Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) is another very common ingredient that has the capability to disrupt hormones and to date, the FDA admits there needs to be more research into its safety before they can say it’s considered entirely safe. However, companies continue to use it unless it’s proven without a doubt to be dangerous.


This ingredient, while being an excellent UVA blocker, is best known for causing skin reactions and allergy symptoms in children.


Artificial fragrances are also known to be harmful to children, most commonly causing allergic reactions. I always try to stay away from any product with fragrance or “parfum” listed in the ingredients.


I’m sure you recognize this name too since a lot of natural or health-focused products claim to be Paraben-free. Parabens come in many forms, such as methylparaben, and are known hormone disrupters.

What shocked me is how many of these harmful chemicals are found together on the sunscreen ingredient list! So how much more danger are our children exposed to when we combine hormone disrupting chemicals on top of cancer causing ones? Yikes!

Better Sun Safety Tips

I explain in another post the incredible benefits of daily sunlight exposure. You won’t believe what a little bit of sunbathing can do for your health, both now and as you age! And experts suggest not trading all the benefits for the harmful effects you might endure by using sunscreens. In fact, one medical doctor even says to avoid sunscreens entirely, and says it is his opinion that the rise in skin cancer might actually be directly linked to the rise in dangerous sunscreens. But this is a whole other post! (Look up Dr. Berg if you’re curious about that claim).

Instead of choosing the sunscreen brands your parents used on you, follow these safer tips for fun in the sun!

√ Be carefree for the first 30 minutes. Do wear sunglasses or a hat to protect your eyes.

√ After 30 minutes of sun exposure, wear protective clothing (long sleeves and pants), hats and sunglasses. Babies and children should wear breathable, SPF clothing to protect their skin.

√ To protect skin exposed to sunlight and avoid burning (which is what damages skin), use mineral based sunscreens. Ones that do not contain any of the harmful chemicals listed above.

safest sunscreen

Mineral Sunscreens Recommended by Experts

For extended sun exposure, dermatologists do recommend using sunscreen to block the harmful UV rays that can damage skin and have long been known to be associated with skin cancers. That being said, they urge parents to use mineral sunscreens, having been found safe for young children and even those with sensitive skin.

Mineral sunscreens differ from chemical ones because they work by forming a barrier on the skin that blocks UV rays. And little-to-none of these active ingredients are absorbed into the skin the way the chemicals listed above do. While mineral sunscreens usually contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (proven safe), even some mineral based sunscreens also contain some of the harmful chemicals listed above. Therefore, you should read the full ingredient list to make sure you are actually avoiding those bad ingredients.

Natural or mineral sunscreens:

These sunscreen brands are free of the harmful ingredients listed at the top of this post.

Coola Mineral Suncare

Badger Organic Baby Mineral Sunscreen

Burt’s Bees Mineral Sunscreen

Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen

MADE OF Organic Baby Mineral Sunscreen

Tubby Todd Play Mineral Sunscreen

Babyganics Sunscreen (this is the one we use)

Other ways to protect children in the sun…

For babies, utilize a specially designed play center equipped with SPF material, breathable and ideal for long days playing outside! Walmart has one that doubles as a mini pool and tent for babies. And then once your infant grows a bit, switch to using this portable play pen which is big enough for creeping, crawling babies. My kids loved the play pen and we could literally take it anywhere!

Bring SPF umbrellas, like this giant one, to sports and outdoor events. This works well for my toddler’s hour-long soccer practices, keeping us cool in the shade.

Did You Know? Vitamin D protects against sunburns, sun damage and even cancer. That’s a little known fact that I’m excited to share with my fellow Mamas! I identified in the other post I mentioned many benefits of Vitamin D. And since scientists are now saying that up to 85% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, it’s clearly an important issue everyone should be addressing for their families!

For more information about Vitamin D benefits, testing at home and which other supplement is critical in combination with Vitamin D, click here!

So even though we must wait for the official FDA determination regarding whether or not the current sunscreen ingredients are harmful, parents do have some information to go on so that they may make the best choice for their families. For me and my family, we’ll be avoiding those common ingredients and sticking to mineral based sun block when we need to protect our skin from lengthy sun exposure!


EWG, The trouble with ingredients in sunscreen

Mercola.com, Sunscreen: The Ugly Truth

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