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Updated by Mackenzie DeLane Myrick on Oct 30, 2019
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7 WORST Sunscreen Ingredients

Consumers will notice two types of sunscreen on shelves today: chemical sunscreens and mineral sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens include many ingredients which are not regulated, and many have proved to cause environmental harm and detriment to human health.

Avoid these ingredients! Always check the list of active and inactive ingredients on the product. A good brand will be transparent!



You can never know what is in a product which lists 'Fragrance' as an ingredient. A bill passed 80 years ago protects manufacturers from disclosing this information, even if there are hundreds of unnamed toxic additives.

"The word "fragrance" or "parfum" on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system." EWG

When you wear sunscreens with 'Fragrance' into the swimming pool, it accumulates with disinfectants like bromine and chlorine, and after being recycled through the pool system a few times, can result in a toxic by-product. Repeated exposure to this by-product has been linked to asthma in young children who frequent the swimming pool environment, particularly indoor pools.


Oxybenzone (also known as BP-3)

Also known as Benzophenone-3 (BP-3), oxybenzone is particularly harmful to human health and environmental quality. It is the most common active chemical sunscreen ingredient, and has been detected at the highest concentrations in near-shore coastal areas. Much of this chemical is washed off the skin and into waterways. Not only do these chemicals enter the environment through beaches, but also via those swimming in pools and washing off ultraviolet-filtering (UV-F) chemical sunscreens while bathing. These anthropogenic chemicals have shown to increase fish and coral mortality rates, and persist in the bloodstream of humans for days after recommended topical application. In a global study, this chemical was found to pervade groundwater, wastewater, sea surface water, and sludge. (Montes-Grajales et al., 2017) This indicates that these chemicals are rarely filtered out or removed from our water supply via water treatment plants. In an effort to prevent further damage to marine organisms and protect the delicate ocean ecosystem, the state of Hawaii has recently declared a ban on the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, our next villain.


Octinoxate (also known as Octylmethoxycinnamate)

This chemical sunscreen ingredient is often used in combination with multiple other chemicals, like avobenzone or oxybenzone, to provide a 'broad-spectrum' skin protection. Although it is found in 75% of sunscreens sold in markets today, sale and use of sunscreen with Octinoxate has been banned in the state of Hawaii. (Rafa et al., 2018) The major concern is their link to rapid increase of coral death rate.



When you apply sunscreens containing Avobenzone, some of the chemical seeps through the skin and enters your bloodstream, where it remains for days. (Matta et al., 2019) When wearing it on the beach and in the sea, after it washes off the skin, it persists in the marine environment. Better research is required to make conclusions regarding avobenzone's effect on human health and environmental quality, though it is important to note that concentrations of this chemical have been detected in sea water and human plasma.



Similarly in the above mentioned study, the chemical Octocrylene was found to be absorbed through the skin and to persist in significant concentrations in human plasma for days after typical application methods. It has also been detected in coastal waters of protected areas frequented by tourist populations.



This chemical has displayed a tendency to spread down and along coastlines, having been detected in high concentrations at shallow and deep water test sites during a recent Oahu-based study. (Mitchelmore et al., 2019) A similar study conducted in the US Virgin Islands found concentrations of homosalate (HMS) to decline as sample site distance from the beach increased. (Bargar et al, 2015)