When someone asks me which conventional/supermarket beauty products they should replace first, I usually answer “nail polish, deodorant and sunscreen”.  Sunscreen always gets me more questions, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the issues sunscreen products can cause, and also what are some natural and organic alternatives.

TOP 7 ingredients you should avoid in conventional sunscreens and recommended natural alternatives

Why you should avoid conventional sunscreen products

Most conventional sunscreen products use chemical filters to protect your skin from UVs. These filters are infamous for polluting the environment and killing corals. Plus, they are absorbed by the skin, causing potential allergies and irritations. Some of these chemical filters are also unstable and break down when exposed to UVs, leaving on the skin newly formed toxic chemicals. Finally, they are suspected to cause endocrine disruption when used regularly. 1

It’s also recommended to avoid sprays, because you can inhale more chemicals with them; pumps definitely cause less inhalation than continuous sprays.

Using skincare alone will not protect you from skin cancer. According to the FDA’s 2007 draft sunscreen safety regulations, “FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) agrees and writes that “sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin cancer prevention and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the sun”. 2

The easiest and safest way to protect your skin from the sun is to avoid exposure around noon and use clothing, hats and shade as primary barriers to UV radiation.

Ingredients you should avoid


Oxybenzone is one of the most common chemical filters in sunscreens and it’s also a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.

It was found in 97% of the American population in a 2008 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 3 Oxybenzone was also identified in nearly 70 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens in EWG’s 2016 sunscreen database. 4

This is especially alarming since oxybenzone has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cell damage, and low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy. 3

The EWG warns against using oxybenzone, especially on children or pregnant/breastfeeding women.


Similar to oxybenzone, octinoxate is a chemical filter that also helps other ingredients to be absorbed more readily.

This common sunscreen ingredient is shown to have hormone-mimicking effects on laboratory animals, which can be harmful to humans and also wildlife, should they come into contact with the chemical once it gets into water.

It has been found in humans, including urine, blood  and mothers’ milk samples. 6

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

Many sunscreens also contain methylisothiazolinone (MIT), a synthetic preservative that the American Contact Dermatitis Society named as its “allergen of the year” in 2013.

In 2014, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety reported that the rise in the rates of reported cases of contact allergy caused by MIT was unprecedented in Europe. Subsequently, the committee banned the use of MIT in body creams in 2016 but still allows its use in rinse-off products such as shampoo. 7

Lab studies on the brain cells of mammals also suggest that MIT may be neurotoxic. 8

Retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A)

Retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinoic acid are forms of Vitamin A that can be found in nearly 16 percent of the beach and sport sunscreens, 14 percent of moisturizers with SPF, and 10 percent of all SPF-rated lip products in EWG’s 2016 sunscreen database.

Vitamin A is an anti-oxydant that slows skin aging but it is best used in lotions and night creams. Indeed, the FDA conducted a study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties, and concluded that there is a possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight. Scientists have known for some time that vitamin A can spur excess skin growth (hyperplasia), and that in sunlight it can form free radicals that damage DNA. 9


Homosalate is another UV filter commonly used in sunscreen that has also been found in mothers’ milk. According to research, it is a weak hormone disruptor that can disrupt estrogen, androgen and progesterone. Sunlight breaks down the chemical into harmful and toxic byproducts. It is restricted in cosmetics in Japan but not elsewhere.  10 4


Octocrylene is suspected  to cause allergic skin reactions in sensitive individuals. When this chemical is exposed to UV light, it also absorbs the rays and produces oxygen radicals that can damage cells and cause DNA mutations. 12 13


Parabens are a preservative widely used in the cosmetics industry. They are easily absorbed into the skin and have been linked to breast cancer, reproductive health problems and hormonal disruptions. They have also been linked to ecological harm, as low levels of butylparaben can kill coral, according to laboratory tests. In the US, the FDA limits the levels of parabens allowed in foods and beverages, but it does not regulate these chemicals in cosmetics and body care products. 14

Two other ingredients to avoid because they can cause allergies are octisalate and avobenzone.

TOP 7 toxic ingredients you should avoid in conventional sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens, a more natural alternative

Unlike conventional skincare products that use chemical UV-filters, mineral sunscreens use mineral filters like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that protect the skin by forming a barrier that reflects UVA and UVB like a mirror. They usually provide broad-spectrum protection, don’t penetrate the skin, are stable and don’t require you to wait 20 minutes before sun exposure.

However, because they tend to look white on the skin, many companies try to make their products more attractive to customers and use nano particles of zinc oxide and titanium oxide that reduce the sunscreens’ white tint. Nano particles are suspected to be so small that they can penetrate the skin. Yet, when the FDA and the European Union studied the issue, they concluded that nanoparticles did not penetrate the skin. Also, according to the EWG, a large number of research studies have produced no evidence that zinc oxide nanoparticles can actually cross the skin in significant amounts.  15

Small nanoparticles could also react with sunlight to produce free radicals, and they could also cause lung damage when inhaled. That’s why the EWG strongly discourages the use of loose powder makeup or spray sunscreens using titanium dioxide or zinc oxide of any particle size. 15

How to choose the right skincare

Based on everything that I mentioned above, customers have the choice between “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems, and “mineral” sunscreens (zinc and titanium), which often contain micronized–or nano-scale particles of those minerals. After reviewing the evidence, EWG determined that mineral sunscreens have the best safety profile of today’s choices. 4

Handmade moisturizer with sun protection and anti-acne active ingredients
Homemade day cream with light SPF protection

Another option is to make your own sunscreen using natural SPF ingredients. Some oils and botanical butters are great to protect the skin during and after sun exposure. Also, some suppliers sell non-nano mineral filters that should not penetrate the skin. I’ll write more about natural SPF ingredients in another article.


Personally, I make my own day cream/moisturizer with light SPF protection using natural and non-nano mineral ingredients. When I need a 30+ SPF sunscreen, I use certified organic mineral sunscreens that unfortunately contain some nano particles, but I prefer that to endocrine disruptors.

If you would like to try natural sunscreens, Flora&Fauna have a nice range of mineral products. Check them out here.

The EWG also recommends 22 different brands for kids (click here for the full list)

Which sunscreen brand do you use?

Learn how to make your own skincare – Click the below image for a FREE Introduction to DIY Skincare

Make your own skincare free course

Disclaimer:  Any recommendations are based on personal, not professional, opinion only.  All information on the Mademoiselle Organic blog is meant for educational and informational purposes only. This post contains affiliate links. For information on how to use this site, please read my Blog Policy page.



  1. Aromazone (in French), DOSSIER THÉMATIQUE – LE SOLEIL : LE CONNAÎTRE, SE PRÉPARER, SE PROTÉGER, accessed on 17/01/2017, http://www.aroma-zone.com/info/dossier-thematique/dossier-thematique-le-soleil-le-connaitre-se-preparer-se-proteger
  2. CARE2 Healthy Living, Risks of Sunscreen: New Report, May 28, 2010, http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-dangers-of-sunscreen-new-report.html
  3. EWG, CDC: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical, March 25, 2008, http://www.ewg.org/news/testimony-official-correspondence/cdc-americans-carry-body-burden-toxic-sunscreen-chemical
  4. EWG, The Trouble With Oxybenzone and Other Sunscreen Chemicals, accessed on 17/01/2017, http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/
  5. EWG, CDC: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical, March 25, 2008, http://www.ewg.org/news/testimony-official-correspondence/cdc-americans-carry-body-burden-toxic-sunscreen-chemical
  6. , EWG Cosmetics Database, “octinoxate”, accessed on 17/01/2017,  https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704203/OCTINOXATE/
  7. Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety  SCCS, OPINION ON Methylisothiazolinone (P94) Submission II (Sensitisation only), December 12, 2013, http://ec.europa.eu/health//sites/health/files/scientific_committees/consumer_safety/docs/sccs_o_145.pdf
  8. , EWG Cosmetics Database, “methylisothiazolinone”, accessed on 17/01/2017, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/703935/METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE/
  9. EWG, The Problem With Vitamin A, accessed on 17/01/2017, http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-problem-with-vitamin-a/
  10. EWG Cosmetics Database, “Homosalate”, accessed on 17/01/2017, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/702867/HOMOSALATE/
  11. EWG, The Trouble With Oxybenzone and Other Sunscreen Chemicals, accessed on 17/01/2017, http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/
  12. EWG Cosmetics Database, “Octocrylene”, accessed on 17/01/2017, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704206/OCTOCRYLENE/
  13.  Kerry M. Hanson, Enrico Gratton, Christopher J. Bardeen, Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin, Available online 6 July 2006, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891584906004138
  14. EWG, September 2008, “TEEN GIRLS’ BODY BURDEN OF HORMONE-ALTERING COSMETICS CHEMICALS: COSMETICS CHEMICALS OF CONCERN”, http://www.ewg.org/research/teen-girls-body-burden-hormone-altering-cosmetics-chemicals/cosmetics-chemicals-concern
  15. EWG, Nanoparticles in Sunscreens, accessed on 17/01/2017, http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/nanoparticles-in-sunscreen/
  16. EWG, Nanoparticles in Sunscreens, accessed on 17/01/2017, http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/nanoparticles-in-sunscreen/
  17. EWG, The Trouble With Oxybenzone and Other Sunscreen Chemicals, accessed on 17/01/2017, http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/

2 thoughts on “TOP 7 toxic ingredients you should avoid in conventional sunscreens (and recommended natural alternatives)

    • Lily says:

      Hi Sandra,

      Thanks so much for sharing this, very interesting read. I agree with a lot in the blog posts. Unfortunately, I also see many DIY recipes on the internet that are unsafe, especially the sunscreen ones and the recipes that include essential oils (in dangerous quantities). I love DIY, but I believe in the science and that there are many rules to follow when making a product depending on the ingredients you use.

      There are a few natural ingredients that can help protect your skin from the sun, but only a little bit, and so they are great to use in a normal daily DIY moisturizer that will provide light SPF protection; but I wouldn’t advise to use them for long sun exposure, like going to the beach for instance, unless you follow a recipe that has been tested in a lab by proper chemists (there are a few such recipes available). Personally, I use mineral sunscreen for long sun exposure, and this is what I recommend in the article as well.

      I’ll publish a blog post on natural ingredients with SPF properties soon, and would love your feedback about it ^^ I’ll also talk about the ingredients you can use on your skin after sun exposure to hydrate and nourish it 🙂

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