Guide to Sunscreens: Choosing the safest sunscreen (and avoiding the most toxic)

As the summer heat intensifies, many of us are lathering up with sunscreen in order to protect our skin and avoid getting burned. The reality is that many sunscreens out there do more harm than good, especially from a fertility perspective. Sunscreen protects our skin from sun damage in one of two ways; they produce either a chemical barrier or a mineral one. 

Guide to sunscreens: Choosing the safest sunscreen (and avoiding the most toxic)

Chemical sunscreens use many chemicals to form a barrier on the skin which is known to be toxic and harmful when it penetrates the skin and crosses the barrier into other tissues. New research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reveals that the harmful chemicals found in conventional sunscreens are endocrine disruptors, estrogenic and may interfere with thyroid and other hormone processes in the body. Oxybenzone, the most common chemical found in sunscreen, has been found to reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women. Retinyl palmitate, a derivative of Vitamin A that is also found in sunscreen, has been shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%.

Be careful with labels! Although some labels may say their ingredients are “all natural”, this often means very little in the way of safety. It is important to look at the ingredient list to make sure harmful toxins are not added. Some names to be on the lookout for include: oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, retinyl palmitate, methylisothiazolinone, parabens or phthalates such as propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, diethylphthalate, and anything labeled “fragrance” which is often a cocktail of toxic chemicals. 

Skin cancer is a very serious issue, and there are more natural ways to protect our skin from the harmful UV rays. Mineral sunscreens are a safer alternatives as they typically include less harmful ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, while still creating a physical barrier to protect our skin from the sun.

Avoid these sunscreens: 

  • Neutrogena— now seen as the #1 sunscreen brand to avoid due to their high concentrations of oxybenzone and other hormone disrupting chemicals. 
  • Banana Boat
  • Coppertone
  • Equate
  • Up & Up
  • CVS/ Wallgreens/ Costco brands 
  • Spray sunscreens— pose an inhalation risk and may not provide a thick and even coating on skin.

Try these sunscreens! Remember to be mindful of ingredient labels, and choose sunscreens using zinc oxide (preferable) or titanium dioxide (second best alternative). Zinc Oxide is the only sunscreen active ingredient that’s been tested and FDA approved for use on babies under 6 months of age and children – this illustrates its high degree of safety.

  • Elta MD 
  • Badger Organic
  • Burt’s Bees
  • Blue Lizard Sensitive
  • Aveeno
  • Babyganics
  • Goddess Garden Organic