Plastic Surgery & Cosmetic Center

Sunscreen Chemicals: The Verdict

Sunscreen Chemicals: The Verdict


There are often debates regarding the best sunscreen options to choose and whether certain chemicals or types of sunscreens are safe. This is largely because of differing findings from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), American Academy of Dermatology, and FDA regarding safety or efficacy of sunscreen. Continue reading to learn more about these recommendations and choosing the best sunscreen options for you and your family, along with guidance from dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Janiga.

Choosing an SPF Rating

While you may see products boasting high SPF ratings, even up to 100, the most important thing is to pick a sunscreen that you will wear.  Most recommendations are for an SPF of at least 30 for daily wear and 50 for outdoor activities. Make sure to reapply every two hours if you are outdoors.

Are Oxybenzone and Retinyl Palmitate Safe?

Another common debate regarding sunscreens is on the safety of two common ingredients: oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. This largely stems from the fact that oxybenzone is a synthetic form of estrogen, leading some to believe that the ingredient could affect hormone levels. The EWG recommends avoiding oxybenzone, while the Skin Cancer Foundation says that there is no evidence that absorption of the ingredient through the skin could cause adverse health effects. If you are concerned about oxybenzone, there are plenty of options that do not contain the ingredient, but the small amount found in some sunscreens has not been shown to cause issues.

Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A, which some groups including the EWG report are damaging to skin while others, including the Skin Cancer Foundation, believe the opposite. Their research finds that retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant, but it’s still common for patients to feel concerned or, at least, confused about the ingredient’s safety. Again, the choice is yours—there are plenty of options free of retinyl palmitate if you want to avoid this ingredient.

Should I Avoid Aerosolized Sunscreen?

When is comes to aerosolized sunscreens, most groups actually agree that it’s best to avoid this option. Aerosolized sunscreens contain propellants and alcohols, which can each irritate the skin. While spraying them on can be convenient, most people do not apply enough to sufficiently protect their skin. Choose a cream-based sunscreen instead to properly protect from UV rays.

Chemical-Free Sunscreens

Chemical-free, or physical-based sunscreens contain titanium or zinc-oxide to block harmful rays from the sun. If you remember white sunscreen paste on lifeguards’ noses in the past, you’re familiar with these sunscreens. However, today’s chemical-free sunscreens contain micronized zinc oxide to that the product is less visible when applied. These options are considered safe and effective by the Skin Cancer Foundation, EWG, FDA, and American Academy of Dermatology.

The major downside of chemical-free sunscreens is that they tend to be more expensive and difficult to find at major drugstores. However, there are popular, safe, and effective options available from Aveeno, the Honest Company, and CeraVe at the drugstore. Look for labels marked “chemical free” or “physical blockers only.”

Purchasing Sunscreen from Your Dermatologist

At Janiga MDs, we offer several sunscreen options that can make excellent additions to your daily routine. Choose a product with SPF from Elta MD, SkinCeuticals, Colorescience, or SkinMedica. Dr. Janiga recommends TIZO’s Lip Fusion product in particular, as it is one of the only lip products containing physical blockers for sun protection. If you’re not sure what to choose, schedule a consultation to learn more about the best SPF option for you.

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