What Ingredients to Look Out for In Sunscreens?

Sunscreen is a crucial part of any skincare routine as it helps protect our skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, not all sunscreens are created equal, and understanding the ingredients they contain is essential for selecting the right one. 

In this blog post, we will explore the key ingredients to look out for in sunscreens to ensure optimal protection and minimize the risk of sun damage.

Broad-Spectrum Protection

When choosing a sunscreen, it is important to ensure that it provides broad-spectrum protection. Broad-spectrum sunscreens are formulated to shield the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are responsible for premature aging, wrinkles, and skin cancer.

UVB rays primarily affect the surface layers of the skin and can cause sunburns and contribute to skin cancer development. Look for sunscreens labeled “broad-spectrum” to ensure you’re adequately protected from both types of UV rays.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB rays. The SPF number indicates how much longer it takes for the skin to burn when using the sunscreen compared to not using any sunscreen at all. 

For example, if it typically takes 10 minutes for your skin to burn without sunscreen, an SPF 30 sunscreen theoretically allows you to stay in the sun 30 times longer (300 minutes) before burning.

It is recommended to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for daily use. However, it’s important to note that the higher the SPF, the smaller the incremental benefit. No sunscreen provides 100% protection, so it’s still essential to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and reapply sunscreen regularly.

Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are physical (or mineral) sunscreen ingredients that provide broad-spectrum protection by reflecting and scattering UV rays. They work by creating a physical barrier on the skin’s surface. 

These ingredients are generally well-tolerated by most skin types, including sensitive skin, as they are less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions.

Physical sunscreens are also effective immediately upon application, as opposed to chemical sunscreens that need time to absorb into the skin. They are a great option for those seeking natural or reef-safe sunscreens, as they are less harmful to coral reefs and the environment.

Chemical Filters

While sunscreen is essential for protecting our skin, it’s also crucial to be aware of certain chemicals that may be present in some sunscreens. These chemicals can potentially have harmful effects on our health and the environment. Here are some unhealthy chemicals to look out for when choosing a sunscreen:


Oxybenzone is a common chemical filter used in sunscreens to absorb UV rays. However, it has been linked to hormone disruption and allergic reactions in some individuals. 

It has also been found to be harmful to coral reefs and marine life when washed off in the ocean. To minimize potential risks, consider avoiding sunscreens containing oxybenzone, especially if you plan to swim in marine environments.


Octinoxate, also known as octyl methoxycinnamate, is another chemical filter used in sunscreens to absorb UVB rays. Like oxybenzone, it can disrupt hormone function and has been detected in human breast milk, indicating potential systemic absorption. 

Additionally, it has been found to be harmful to coral reefs. If possible, choose sunscreens that do not contain octinoxate.

Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, is sometimes added to sunscreens for its antioxidant properties. However, studies have raised concerns about its safety when exposed to sunlight. 

It has been shown to increase the risk of skin tumors and lesions in animals. While the evidence is not yet conclusive for humans, it may be prudent to avoid sunscreens containing retinyl palmitate, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.


Parabens are preservatives used in many cosmetic products, including sunscreens, to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. However, they have been associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions in some individuals. To minimize exposure to parabens, look for sunscreens labeled as paraben-free or opt for natural alternatives.


Many sunscreens contain added fragrances to enhance their scent. However, these fragrances can be problematic for individuals with sensitive skin or allergies. They can cause skin irritation, redness, or allergic reactions. Choosing fragrance-free sunscreens can reduce the risk of adverse skin reactions.

It’s important to note that not all chemical filters or added ingredients are necessarily harmful. Many sunscreen ingredients have undergone safety testing and are considered safe for use. 

However, if you have specific concerns or sensitivities, it’s advisable to consult with a dermatologist or opt for mineral-based or natural sunscreens, which typically have fewer added chemicals.

Additional Considerations

In addition to the key ingredients mentioned above, it’s worth considering other factors when selecting a sunscreen. Look for water-resistant formulas if you plan on swimming or sweating, as they provide better staying power. Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours or more frequently if you are exposed to water or intense physical activity.

If you have specific skin concerns, such as acne-prone or sensitive skin, seek sunscreens labeled as non-comedogenic or fragrance-free to avoid potential irritants. It’s also important to check the expiration date of your sunscreen, as its effectiveness may diminish over time.