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Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid, and Which Sunscreens are Safe

Overall, there are two basic types of skin cream or lotion protection: sunscreens, which absorb and deflect (or reflect) the sun's rays via a chemical reaction, and "blocks"—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—which create a physical barrier against rays.

Ingredients to Avoid:

PABA: Though rarely used now in sunscreens, beware of products that contain the ingredient. Forty percent of the population is sensitive to it, experiencing red, itchy skin.

Benzophenone (benzophenone-3), homosalate, and octy-methoxycinnamate (octinoxate): These chemicals are of more concern because they have shown estrogenic activity in lab tests. Dr. Margret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich's Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology says they have been shown to disrupt hormones, affecting the development of the brain (particularly the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal system) and reproductive organs in laboratory rats. Because people are exposed simply by eating fish (where benzophenone accumulates in the fat), using sunscreen containing these chemicals unduly increases the exposure. Based on her studies, Dr. Schlumpf advises people avoid products containing benzophenone and the related chemicals above.

Parabens (butyl-, ethyl-, methyl-, and propyl-): Parabens may also mimic estrogen, but because they are common in sunscreens, avoiding them may prove difficult.

Padimate-O and Parsol 1789 (2-ethylhexyl-4-dimethylaminobenzoic acid and avobenzone): These two chemicals have the potential to damage DNA when illuminated with sunlight. On the skin's surface, these chemicals do protect from UV damage; however, once absorbed into the skin, these same chemicals can prove destructive. Dr. Knowland's research indicates that Padimate-O and Parsol 1789 "are excited by the UV energy which they absorb and become reactive, acquiring the potential to attack cellular components, including DNA." Knowland cautions that "DNA damage inflicted by an excited sunscreen is much less capable of being repaired by naturally occurring repair mechanisms than the DNA damage inflicted by UV alone."

Which Sunscreens Are The Safest?

Check out the online database that rates sunscreen safety and effectiveness, here.  

This in-depth analysis of the safety and effectiveness of more than 700 name-brand sunscreens. The new database lists products that offer the best combination of safety and effectiveness: they are formulated with the safest chemicals, are most effective at protecting against sunburn, and help prevent long-term damage caused by the sun’s UVA rays, which are linked to skin aging, wrinkling and, potentially, cancer.


Best Overall Sunscreen goes to Purple Prairie this year for their SPF 30 Sun Stuff.  They just reformulated their SPF 30 lotion and after trying it out I think this one is the best bang for your buck.  It works in every sunny situation, doesn’t leave you looking ghostly and has a great ingredients list.  Plus, your purchase supports small businesses.  A little goes a long way and after testing it out in sun, surf and swimming pools I think it protects great minus the greasy.  Double thumbs up.

Best Ingredients goes to Badger for all their sunscreens.  Every year Badger sets the bar for safe ingredients and this year is no exception.  It’s truly all natural and organic.  They have also gone a step further to up the ante on their sunscreen ingredient and are now using non-nano uncoated Zinc Oxide. Badger’s sunscreen is a top performer in protection especially with rough or lengthy swimming.  It’s the most water resistant sunscreen I’ve used and protects even after hearty swimming.  Badger is always a safe bet.  Totally worth the money, especially if you have swimmers.


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