Is sunscreen safe or not?

Many swear that conventional sunscreen is safe and can save your life, whilst there are some others who say it’s full of toxic ingredients… So, who is right? I wanted to get to the bottom of this conundrum so I have taken a look at what’s in one the most popular sunscreens in the world. You might be surprised, I certainly was.

You’ve probably been told that you must put sunscreen on before heading out into the sunshine to protect your health and odds of getting skin cancer and premature ageing. The irony is that the very sunscreens that are supposed to protect our health also contain a number of ingredients that are proven to be harmful.


Ingredients in conventional sunscreen

One of the most popular sunscreens sold across the world has the following ingredients:

  • Octocrylene – damages coral reef & aquatic reproduction (Stien et al., 2019)
  • Oxybenzone – genetic damage to aquatic life, kills baby coral, endocrine disruptor – banned in Hawaii, Caribbean. One drop in an Olympic sized swimming pool is enough to cause harm (Downs et al., 2016).
  • Octyl salicylate – enhances skin penetration
  • Homosalate – estrogenic, endocrine disruptor, causes cell death, restricted use in the EU (Yang et al. 2018).
  • Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane – damages coral reef & aquatic reproduction
  • Chlorphenesin – used as a preservative, toxic to skin cells, liver & kidney at dosage approved for human use
  • Phenoxyethanol – lethal effect on insects, restricted in Japan and the EU (Wang et al., 2020).
  • Hydroxy benzoate – a paraben that has weak estrogenic effect.


Our skin absorbs sunscreen

Our skin is the largest organ and is surprisingly absorbent. A study conducted by the FDA found that chemicals from sunscreen are absorbed into the bloodstream from the skin after only one application. The FDA says further research is needed as the long-term effects from this are unknown, however stress that it is important to keep using sunscreen (FDA, 2022).

My question is if these ingredients have been scientifically proven to cause these effects do we really need a study to prove they are unsafe to apply this to skin every day over years?

In light of these studies, we should be concerned about what sunscreen put on our bodies. The whole purpose for using sunscreen is to protect our health & prevent skin cancer. I am NOT convinced that it’s healthy to use these sunscreens after looking at the research. The FDA says these ingredients are safe, Jennifer Aniston says she uses this brand…… However this is another classic example of why you need to take responsibility for your own health if you want optimal health.

So what the heck are we supposed to do if we don’t want to get a sunburn?? Zinc oxide is a much safer sunscreen to use.


 Safer, more natural sunscreen alternatives

Here are my top picks for safer to use sunscreens.

Badger Company, Sport, Mineral Sunscreen Cream, SPF 40, Unscented, 2.9 fl oz (87 ml)

Badger Company, Sport, Mineral Sunscreen Cream, SPF 40, Unscented, 2.9 fl oz (87 ml)

Mad Hippie, Ultra-Sheer Body SPF, 40+, 4 fl oz (118 ml)

Beauty By Earth, Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 25 Zinc Oxide Sun Protection, 4 fl oz (118 ml)

Please note that I may receive a small affiliate fee if you decided to purchase through this link, however the price is the same. I only ever promote products that I vett and recommend for my family and friends. Iherb is the largest provider of vitamins and natural health products in the world. 

Can you guess which popular brand contains all of the listed ingredients above? Drum roll please……… It is Neutrogena.

Will you check your sunscreen now to see what ingredients it contains?



Downs, C.A., Kramarsky-Winter, E., Segal, R. et al. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 70, 265-288 (2016).

FDA. (2020). Shedding More Light on Sunscreen Absorption. FDA.

Routledge, E., Parker, J., Odum, J., Ashby, J., & Sumpter, J. (1998). Some Alkyl Hydroxy Benzoate Preservatives (Parabens) Are Estrogenic. Toxicology And Applied Pharmacology, 153(1), 12-19. https://

Santos, P., Watkinson, A., Hadgraft, J., & Lane, M. (2012). Influence of penetration enhancer on drug permeation from volatile formulations. International Journal Of Pharmaceutics, 439(1-2), 260-268. https: //

Silva, A., Santos, B., Castro, H., & Rodrigues, C. (2021). Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate and butyl methoxydibenzoy|methane: Toxicological effects on marine biota and human concerns. Journal Of Applied Toxicology, 42(1), 73-86.

Stien D, Clergeaud F, Rodrigues AMS et al (2019) Metabolomics reveal that octocrylene accumulates in Pocillopora damicornis tissues as fatty acid conjugates and triggers coral cell mitochondrial dysfunction. Anal Chem 91:990-995. acs.analchem.8b04187

Wang, J., Liu, Y., Kam, W., Li, Y., & Sullivan, (2020). Toxicity of the cosmetic preservatives parabens, phenoxyethanol and chlorphenesin on human meibomian gland epithelial cells. Experimental Eye Research, 196, 108057. 10.1016/j.exer.2020.108057

Yang, C., Lim, W., Bazer, F., & Song, G. (2018). Homosalate aggravates the invasion of human trophoblast cells as well as regulates intracellular signaling pathways including PI3K/AKT and MAPK pathways. Environmental Pollution, 243, 1263-1273. j.envpol. 2018.09.092

 Have any questions or concerns? Drop me a line!


By Holistic Nutritionist Chrissy

Chrissy is a university qualified nutritionist who graduated with honours at La Trobe University in Melbourne. One of her favourite hobbies is to read the scientific literature on how to optimise health. When she’s not reading, writing or working she’s with her 3 children outdoors, practicing yoga, jogging or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Chrissy has overcome some debilitating chronic health issues (low mood, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, very bad acne to name a few) with the power of nutrients and correcting gut health, at 39 she now feels better than she did in her 20’s.