Is Chemical Sunscreen Bad for You? Debunking Common Myths

Is Chemical Sunscreen Bad for You? Debunking Common Myths

Is Chemical Sunscreen Bad for You? Debunking Common Myths

These days, the word "chemical" seems to evoke a sense of fear in many consumers. We tend to immediately distance ourselves once we learn that something contains chemical compounds or has the word "chemical" attached to its label.

Chemical sunscreens are not exempt from this scrutiny. Many have raised concerns about chemical sunscreens, particularly questioning if they are toxic or can cause cancer.

Let us now put this debate to rest by addressing the question: "Is chemical sunscreen safe?"

Is Chemical Sunscreen Bad?

As one of the most important personal care products for skin protection, sunscreen has become a part of many people's everyday routine. Therefore, it is CRUCIAL to understand the effects of its ingredients on our health.

The main concern regarding chemical sunscreen has to do with chemical compounds entering the bloodstream and potentially harming internal organs or even causing skin cancer.

A 2019 study approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Research in Human Subjects Committee tested four different chemical sunscreens on 24 people with various skin types, measuring the levels of active ingredients found in blood plasma after applying such chemical formulas.

The results indicated that all four sunscreens contained unsafe levels of avobenzone, which can interfere with the endocrine system, and octocrylene, which has been linked to CORAL REEF DAMAGE.

Furthermore, three of them contain unsafe levels of oxybenzone, an endocrine disruptor that can cause thyroid tumors and has been found in breast milk and various bodily fluids.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge the limitations of this study, including its small sample size of only 24 subjects. Moreover, the study solely focused on the absorption of the chemicals without assessing any physical effects or damage they may cause.

Despite these results, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US FDA, and AAD stated that chemical sunscreens are safe. Its benefits outweigh the unproven harmful effects on an average person.

Existing Health Risks and FDA Recommendations

Long-term sun exposure has some severe health risks, such as painful sunburns, skin aging, immune suppression, and an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

For these reasons, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises wearing sunscreen when exposed to the sun.

Types of Sunscreens

Young Boy Applying Sunscreen

Two main types of damaging radiation are emitted by the sun: UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays can penetrate the deepest layers of the skin and accelerate aging by causing fine lines and wrinkles.

On the other hand, UVB rays typically affect the top layer of the skin, leading to sunburns. Long-term exposure to these rays can cause significant damage.

Two main types of sunscreen can be used to counteract this damage: mineral and chemical sunscreen. Let us delve into each of them.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin, acting as a protective sponge that absorbs UV light. Once absorbed, they convert radiation from UV rays into heat, which is then safely released from the body, preventing any potential harm to the skin.

Commonly found chemical ingredients in these sunscreens include avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone.


  • Provides better UV protection
  • Sweat and water-resistant
  • Lighter consistency
  • Absorbs faster for a more comfortable wear


  • May contain irritating chemical ingredients
  • Not ideal for young children or those with skin conditions

Physical (Mineral) Sunscreens

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Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, act as a protective shield by blocking and reflecting the sun's harmful rays. These sunscreens sit on the skin's surface, creating a barrier that reflects UV rays to prevent damage and sunburns.

Chemicals found in most physical sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Notably, these two are the only chemicals considered to be FDA-approved ingredients for sunscreens.


  • Suitable for children and those with sensitive skin
  • May be more moisturizing (ideal for those with dry skin)


  • Mineral sunscreens tend to leave a white cast
  • Physical formulas may be too heavy for people with normal to oily skin
  • Can be uncomfortable to wear

Regardless of what you use, be sure to check the expiry date.

Consider reading the label and the list of active ingredients to ensure you are getting broad spectrum protection to safeguard your skin against UVA and UVB rays.

Sunscreen Safety for Children

Young Boy Putting On Sunscreen

Pediatricians and dermatologists recommend the use of physical sunscreen formulas for young children, as well as for individuals with dry skin or eczema.

They also encourage parents to use formulas that do not need to be sprayed on. Spray-on sunscreens are a potential inhalation risk, which could harm your kid's health.

This does not mean that children should only stick with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide-based sunscreens. Experts note that older kids can safely use chemical sunscreen because the skin becomes less susceptible to irritation as they grow.

However, it must be noted that potential risks are associated with chemical sunscreen ingredients. For instance, oxybenzone exposure was linked to lower testosterone levels in adolescent boys, and its traces are also found in breast milk.

Additionally, due to their harmful impact on coral reefs, the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate is PROHIBITED in Hawaii, Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Whether you choose chemical or mineral sunscreen options, it is important to apply sunscreen everyday and 30 minutes before sun exposure. You must also opt for a broad-spectrum sunscrseen with SPF levels between 30 and 60 for optimum protection.

Future Sunscreen Ingredients Research and Considerations

The FDA is continually reevaluating guidelines and regulations concerning sunscreen risks. Recent research has identified issues with detectable levels of benzene in sunscreen, leading to the recall of numerous spray-on or aerosol sunscreens.

Benzene is naturally found in crude oil and cigarette smoke. Prolonged exposure to this compound can compromise the body's immune response, resulting in fertility problems, anemia, and even leukemia.

The FDA has since updated its guidelines with regard to benzene in sunscreens, and ongoing research aims to ascertain the extent to which the skin absorbs benzene and its potential harm.

Furthermore, additional safety data is required for the chemicals absorbed in the skin when applying sunscreen.

Recent studies have focused on three sunscreen chemicals, namely homosalate, avobenzone, and oxybenzone, with particular attention to homosalate, as it can potentially disrupt hormones.

For mineral sunscreens, stronger guidelines are being implemented for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen products to REDUCE RISKS for sunscreen users.

Regulations are constantly updated based on new research, and sunscreen manufacturers must abide by these evolving standards.

Other Sun Protection Measures

 Kids Under an Umbrella

It is important to note that sunscreens are just ONE WAY to protect ourselves against sun exposure and damage. Combining sunscreens with other methods ensures a better defense and promotes overall health.

Here are some additional ways to protect against UV damage:

  • Avoid going into direct sunlight at peak hours of the day (10 am - 2 pm), where the sun is at its highest.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing and accessories, such as hats, long sleeves, umbrellas, and sunglasses, to create physical barriers. Look for materials designed to block UV rays. 
  • Stay hydrated. Hydrated skin is more resilient and less prone to damage.

Be sure to use the right kind of sunscreen. It is best if adults don't use kid's sunscreen.

Key Takeaways on Whether Chemical Sunscreen is Bad

In conclusion, most professionals consider chemical sunscreens SAFE. However, studies have shown some chemical sunscreens contain unsafe levels of chemical compounds, which are subsequently absorbed into the bloodstream.

For this reason, young children should use mineral sunscreen instead. So far, the FDA proposed that the two chemicals used in physical sunscreen (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) are safe for even the most sensitive skin.

Regardless, it is always essential to wear sunscreen when exposed to the sun's rays to avoid painful sunburns and skin cancers.