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Now that summer is upon us and the sun is no longer hiding, sun protection is essential. After such a long winter and cold and rainy spring, wanting to be outdoors as much as possible only feels natural.

Sunscreens are ubiquitous. It seems as if sunscreen is pushed on us from all angles: the FDA, sunscreen companies, the news, and our mothers. For ladies, it’s a constant piece of advice for everyday use (rain or shine).

At first blush, sunscreen seems pretty benign. Put it on and you won’t get cancer, or so the claim goes. However, upon closer examination, not all of the ingredients in sunscreen are good for you and some are even toxic and harmful to your health.

When you look at a bottle of sunscreen, it lists the active ingredient for sun protection along with a litany of inactive ingredients. Surprisingly, inactive ingredients often make up more than 50% of the composition of the sunscreen. With that in mind, they don’t seem to be so “inactive.” Unfortunately, many active and inactive ingredients are not good for your health. Let’s break it down.

3 Better Sunscreen Ingredients

1.  Zinc Oxide. This ingredient by far is the most superior for protecting you from UVA rays.  Unlike the ingredients listed below, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide don’t break down in the sun.

2. Titanium Dioxide. This ingredient is not as strong as zinc oxide; however, it is much better than the ingredients below. This qualifies as better for you in the topical form, not the spray or powder form.

3.  Avobenzone.  This also provides good sunscreen protection. However, if you have sensitive skin, opt for either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for sun protection, because avobenzone can cause skin allergies.

Many sunscreens that contain one or more of these ingredients are available at your local health food store.

5 Harmful Ingredients in Sunscreens

Here are 5 extremely common ingredients that you don’t want because they are highly toxic and harmful to your health (listed in descending order of toxic effects):

1. Oxybenzone. This ingredient is by far the most harmful on the list. It disrupts your hormones by acting like estrogen (called a xenoestrogen) which, in turn, your body doesn’t differentiate between estrogen and xenoestrogen and treats them as estrogen. One of the effects of this hormone disruptor is an increased risk of endometriosis. In addition, oxybenzone causes skin allergies.

2. Vitamin A/Retinyl Palmitate.* Normally, Vitamin A is great for skin care. In fact, we recommend supplementing Vitamin A to many of our patients who suffer from acne.  However, applying it topically is hazardous and may actually speed up the development of skin cancer, when we want the opposite effect. In the sun, when Vitamin A is applied topically, government studies have found that it might trigger skin tumors and lesions to develop.

3.  Octinoxate. This wreaks havoc on your hormones, more specifically your reproductive system. In animal studies, alterations of thyroid and behavior were found.

4.  Homosalate. This ingredient disrupts your hormones, namely estrogen, androgen, and progesterone.

5.  Methylisothiazolinone (MI, for short). This preservative irritates and sensitizes skin and causes skin allergies.

Although the better-for-you 3 ingredients above offer fantastic sun protection, nothing beats covering up with clothing and a hat, sitting under an umbrella, or avoiding the sun altogether. To find a list of sunscreens that contain at least one of the 3 better-for-you ingredients, visit the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide here.

What do you like to do or use to protect yourself from the sun? Leave your comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

Source: Environmental Working Group, Sunscreen Guide

*Also known as: Retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, retinol.

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