What’s in My Sunscreen? Sun Protection Tips

It’s easy to get nervous as you head into the sun. With skin cancer rates on the rise, it’s important to be mindful of the sun’s potentially harmful effects on your skin.

But the ingredients of many sunscreens on the market may be cause for concern, too. The UV protective ingredients are either made of chemical filters, mineral filters, or a combination of both. How do you know which are dangerous, and how they will affect your health? Here’s a breakdown of what to watch out for as you prime for the summer sunshine.

Chemical Sunscreens

Unfortunately, most sunscreens on the market have chemical ingredients such as oxy-benzone and parabens, which have been shown to be endocrine (hormone) disruptors in studies of cancer cells. Endocrine disruptors can act like estrogen, and may contribute to hormonally mediated cancers such as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer. There is also evidence that they can contribute to early puberty, low sperm counts, and infertility.

Chemical sunscreens are absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream, circulating through the entire body and have been detected in the blood, urine, and breast milk up to two days after a single application. Studies also say that chemical sunscreens may also be harmful to marine life. 

Recommendation: Stay away from chemical sunscreen products.

Natural Oils

Olive oil and coconut oil have been touted as natural sunscreens, but a recent study has shown that the SPF for these products is 8 at best. While olive and coconut oil contain antioxidants, including vitamin E which can nourish the skin and protect it from damage, they may not be the best protective agent out there.

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Recommendation: Don’t rely on these to protect you for a fun day at the beach, unless you are not prone to sunburn and are able to reapply frequently. If you are only out in the sun for short periods of time, natural oils are potentially great options, and also have added skin health benefits.

Mineral and Physical Sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens generally use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which form a physical barrier as these minerals “float” on the top of the skin and are not absorbed.

Recommendation: For longer sun exposure and for those prone to sunburn, mineral sunscreens are a great option to make sure you’re safe, while still enjoying time in the sun. Make sure to look for water-resistant SPF-rated mineral sunscreens and reapply to continue the sun-protective benefit.


Large-brimmed hats and UPF-rated clothes and swimsuits can cover large areas of the skin, which may otherwise be unprotected, as UV rays are able to penetrate through some cloth. While shade can help, beware of reflected rays, particularly on sandy beaches or by the water.

Recommendation: Wearing hats and UPF-rated clothing is a great option if you plan to be in the sun for extended periods of time, or are prone to sunburn.

For more information about staying safe in the sun, visit the Environmental Working Group’s guide to sunscreens, where you can check the ingredients of many brands to see if they contain potentially harmful ingredients.

Bottom Line

While it’s important to remember to protect yourself from the sun’s potentially harmful rays, it’s also important to remember that the sun offers us healthy doses of Vitamin D, which plays many roles in a healthy functioning body.

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Read More: Find out more about the pros and cons of sunshine

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