SUNSCREENS – Could They Actually Cause More Harm Than Good?

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SUNSCREENS - Do They Cause Us More Harm Than Good?
SUNSCREENS – Could They Actually Cause More Harm Than Good?

Now that Summer is officially here, I think it’s a good time to talk about sunscreens. I’ve never given too much thought to sunscreens until I had my child. Like most mums, I found myself carefully gazing at baby cosmetic product labels fearing I might apply something that is actually harmful to my delicate bundle of joy.  And when it came to beach holiday shopping, I came across a wide variety of sunscreens. And that’s when I realized that not all sunscreens protect our skin from harmful sun rays in the same way. I discovered that there are two main types of sunscreens out there: chemical based and mineral based.


Chemical sunscreens typically contain one or more of these ingredients:

  • Octylcrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Helioplex
  • 4-MBC
  • Mexoryl SX and XL
  • Tinosorb S and M
  • Uvinul T 150
  • Uvinul A Plus

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV radiation and preventing them from penetrating the skin.

At the moment, there’re many contradicting studies about the safety of using chemical sunscreens¹. Some even prove that once absorbed into the skin, the aforementioned ingredients generate free radicals which can cause skin damage, hormonal disruption, irritation, and aging. In fact, in January 2011, the NTP Board of Scientific Counselors affirmed the conclusion that both retinyl palmitate (often included in sunscreens) sped the development of cancerous lesions and tumors on UV-treated animals.

However, some studies still indicate that chemical sunscreens are perfectly safe. Interesting fact – many chemical UV filters have not been FDA approved in the United States, but are sold freely in Europe and Asia.

Personally, cancerous or not, I shudder to think about my two-year-old being exposed to such chemical cocktails. So naturally, I turned to the safer option – mineral sunscreens. But as it turns out they’re not so straight forward either.


Mineral or physical sunscreens would normally contain two ingredients:

  • Titanium dioxide (TiO2)
  • Zinc oxide (ZnO)

Both ingredients act as a physical sunblock. Essentially, they reflect UV rays, similar to how white paint reflects light. Regular zinc oxide and titanium dioxide UV filters are both FDA approved, offer good sun protection, and generally don’t cause any skin irritation.

Though note that Titanium Dioxide protects against UVB rays, but not the full spectrum of UVA rays. Whereas Zinc Oxide protects against the entire spectrum of UVB and UVA rays. Unlike chemical-based sunscreens, they start protecting your skin from the moment you apply them. But since they sit on the surface of your skin, you need to be diligent in their reapplication as they rub-off when swimming or sweating.


The main complaint with natural mineral/physical UV blockers is that they don’t feel or look good on the skin. They are thick, hard to apply and tend to leave a white film on your skin. And that’s why many cosmetic companies turned to mineral nano-sunscreens or nanotechnology sunscreens – smaller particle-sized sunscreens with micronized actives.

However, whilst this solved the texture problem in mineral sunscreen, it raised many other concerns. The problem with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles sunscreens is that they may promote the generation of free radicals when exposed to sunlight. In addition, there is a concern that due to their tiny particle size, your skin may absorb potentially unsafe amounts of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.


I’m sure you’ve heard this all before, but covering up and avoiding harmful afternoon sun rays is still your best option. If you must use sunscreen then go for a natural mineral one (make sure they’re no other added ingredients). And yes, it might make you look like Casper. I solved this problem by applying my sunscreen under my makeup with a bit of bronzing powder on top. It really does the trick. Alternatively, you can get a tinted mineral sunscreen such as Avène Sun Care SPF 50 Tinted Compact – Tint: Beige.

A stylish sunhat and a cover-up is a must!  And as for my two year-old, he really doesn’t care, mineral or not, he hates when I apply any type of cream on him! Seriously, what is it with toddlers and creams!?!


Jason Sunbrellas Mineral Based Physical Sunblock SPF 30 

Badger All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30, Unscented 

Cover-Up Baby, Sunscreen for Face & Body, 50+ SPF, Waterproof

Avène Sun Care SPF 50 Tinted Compact – Tint: Beige

New Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid For Body




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I'm a London based beauty researcher who is continuously on the hunt for the preventative and corrective skincare products and treatments and award-winning spas around the globe.

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My Beauty Insider a one-stop-shop for information on the best preventative and corrective skincare products and treatments, and award-winning spas around the globe. Our mission is to inform you of the latest innovations in the beauty industry and provide an honest opinion based on personal experience. Finally, our readers' input is invaluable to us - so please leave comments and let us know if there is any particular product or treatment you would like to know about! Maria x

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