The Good and the Bad In Your Sunscreen

I live in Bend, Oregon…a paradise for Spring and Summer outdoor sports enthusiasts! There’s trail running, mountain biking, road biking, hiking, fishing, canoeing, paddleboarding, and the list goes on and on. Sounds great, right? It totally is, but I also don't want to get sunburned, nor do I want to promote premature aging! The problem is, so many sunscreens contain yucky ingredients I don't want absorbed into my body.  

Did You Know?

Hanging out beside the pool or at the ocean/lake increases overall UV radiation by 25%, and ultimately skin cancer. More than 90% of all skin cancers are associated with sun exposure.

Something to keep in mind on your next hiking trip, or if you live at a high elevation – ultraviolet radiation exposure increases 4 to 5% with every 1,000 feet above sea level. At an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, UV radiation may be 35 to 45% more intense than at sea level. 

The water and wind also wears away sunscreen and reduces its effectiveness, so take extra precautions.

The Bad Ingredients To Avoid!

Protecting your skin from UV radiation is obviously a top reason to wear sunscreen, but depending on which sunscreen you choose, there could be some not-so-desirable health consequences. Unfortunately, it’s very common for sunscreen, aloe, and other topical products to contain hormone disrupting chemicals (aka: xenoestrogens).

1) Avoid Oxybenzone  

Oxybenzone is found in nearly every chemical sunscreen. It’s recommended to avoid this ingredient because it penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can also trigger allergic skin reactions. Although research is preliminary, studies have found a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and health issues. One study has linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women; another found that women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.

2) Avoid Octinoxate

Octinoxate gets into the bloodstream and demonstrates hormone-like activity. In animals, octinoxate altered the reproductive system and thyroid. It can also trigger allergic skin reactions. Breastfeeding moms, take caution, this chemical can be found in mother’s milk so please avoid so it isn’t passed to your beautiful baby.

3) Avoid Retinyl Palmitate

When used in a night cream, this form of vitamin A is supposed to have anti-aging effects. But on sun-exposed skin, retinyl palmitate may speed development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies. Why is this “inactive ingredient” allowed in sunscreens intended for use in the sun? Good question.

4) Avoid Homosalate

Homosalate enters the bloodstream and disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone. This is another chemical for breastfeeding moms to especially avoid because it can be found in mother’s milk.

Want more info about hormone disrupting chemicals? BPA is a prevalant one, along with Parabens and Phthalates

The Good Ingredients!

Look for a sunscreen with any of these four ingredients. They not only provide excellent UVA protection, but also offer very limited to no skin penetration, and no evidence of hormone disruption.

1) Titanium Dioxide

2) Zinc Oxide

3) Avobenzone

4) Mexoryl SX

The Environmental Working Group is an excellent reference for identifying a safe sunscreen and to learn more about the sunscreen you currently use. Check out their guide here 2020 Sunscreen Guide.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods


Environmental Working Group. The trouble With Sunscreen Chemicals. 

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