Are Sunscreens Dangerous or Hazardous?

are sunscreens dangerous or harmful

As the weather warms up and more and more people start to head outside for spring break or summer vacation, the age-old discussion of the health effects of wearing sunscreen will undoubtedly resurface. While some ingredients in some sunscreens may be linked with adverse effects, the bottom line is that you must wear sunscreen to keep your skin protected from cancer, inflammation, and signs of premature aging. This article is aimed at setting the record straight about hazardous ingredients in sunscreen and how you can avoid them while still getting adequate SPF.

Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreens

When choosing a sunscreen, it is crucial to understand that there are two different types: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens like EltaMD Physical and PCA Skin Sheer Tint contain mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients are not absorbed into your skin. Instead, they sit on top of your skin, creating a physical barrier between it and the sun’s harmful UV rays. They reflect the rays away from the skin’s surface.

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain chemical ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octinoxate, which are absorbed into your skin. These ingredients may cause hormonal effects when large doses are used, such as when you are covering your entire body. Chemical sunscreens can also cause allergic reactions and stinging on some skin types, and they have also been linked with damage to coral reefs and other marine life. For these reasons, I do not recommend that you use chemical sunscreens on your whole body, for children under ten, or when pregnant or breastfeeding.

A Closer Look at “Hazardous Ingredients” in Sunscreen

As for other “hazardous ingredients” in sunscreens, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has identified a few potentially harmful ingredients to watch out for when applying sunscreen. In one study, retinyl palmitate, which is a vitamin A (retinol) derivative, was shown to have cancer-causing effects in mice when exposed to UV rays. Although SPF was not used on the mice in the study (which would have protected their skin from UV rays) there is no need to take a risk and use retinyl palmitate on your skin. Thus, it is best to avoid using products that contain this ingredient for use in the morning if they do not also contain SPF.

Other vitamin A derivatives like retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene do not pose this same risk. It is a long-purported myth that these ingredients will make your skin more sensitive to the sun. In fact, many studies have found that retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene actually protect skin from the sun by blocking the expression of “bad” genes that the sun would otherwise “turn on.” The only problem with using these ingredients in the sun is that some of them — retinol and tretinoin — break down upon sun exposure, so they should only be applied at night or they will be ineffective.

Dr. Baumann’s Sunscreen Recommendations

My personal sunscreen recommendation is to wear a physical SPF 15 on your face every morning as part of your daily routine when you plan to be out in the sun for less than 30 minutes per day. When you plan to be out in the sun for more than 30 minutes, use a higher SPF. One of the most common complaints about physical sunscreens is that they have a tendency to give the skin a white hue, which can be especially problematic for individuals with darker skin tones. If this is a problem for you, try using a lower SPF on your face for daily use (because a low SPF is better than no SPF), or look for a physical sunscreen with a tint that closely matches your skin tone.

If you want to use a chemical sunscreen, only apply it to your face, not on your entire body. Make sure you are applying at least ½ teaspoon of sunscreen to your face, and shot glass full (one ounce) on your body. Studies have shown that many people do not use enough sunscreen to get adequate SPF, and they often miss crucial areas of their face when applying sunscreen.

The Bottom Line

The fact of the matter is that any sunscreen is safer than going into the sun without any protection at all. Whenever possible, do not use chemical sunscreens on children under ten or when covering your entire body. However, if a chemical sunscreen is all that is available, it is still safer than using no sunscreen at all. Sun exposure causes DNA damage, mitochondrial damage, inflammation, and immunosuppression, so wearing sunscreen or sun protective clothing is a must for healthy skin and a healthy body.

If you still have questions about hazardous ingredients in sunscreen or are unsure of which sunscreen to choose for your skin type, contact Baumann Cosmetic at You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for more skincare tips and advice.

Wishing you great skin!

May 2, 2018 Skincare