What I Look For in a Safe Sunscreen

Updated: Sep 23

When it comes to finding the perfect sunscreen, I head straight to the ingredient list to determine if a product is safe or not. More important than what is in it, I look for a few specific ingredients to NOT be in a sun care product before I’ll purchase it.

Disclaimer: This post is part of a paid partnership with Malina New York.

If you start flipping over bottles and reading the back labels, you’ll likely find similar ingredients in many of the sunscreens at your local grocery store or drugstore. Avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octocrylene for instance are a few of the top active ingredients commonly found in sunscreen.

I first began paying closer attention to these ingredients when I started to develop an intensely itchy rash that turned out to be the result of oxybenzone, one of the most common sunscreen ingredients to cause an allergic reaction on the skin.

In addition to my allergic reaction, there are a few other potential health risks that come with using chemical sunscreen; for example endocrine-disrupting effects, which lower the effects of growth hormones that are necessary for proper development. Though there is unfortunately a lot of misinformation and contradictory information out there. In fact there are a number of sources positioned to discredit any information claiming that certain active ingredients in sunscreen are unsafe.

However a recent study conducted by the FDA in 2020 found that four of the most common UV filters in chemical sunscreens; such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule are absorbed by the body in substantial amounts and can stay there for days. In the same study, the FDA found that six of the common active ingredients in chemical sunscreens can absorb into and linger in the body for days and even up to weeks in some cases.

This FDA testing also found that after just one application of chemical sunscreen, those ingredients are present in the blood beyond the threshold at which the FDA deems more testing is necessary in order to claim that they’re safe for use. So despite some sources on the web continuing to falsely claim that those potentially harmful chemicals are in amounts too small to matter, the reality is the FDA’s current position is that more testing is necessary to declare those ingredients to be safe for use. In their testing for instance,

concentrations of oxybenzone were more than 180 times the FDA’s level of concern after a single application, and after four days of regular use, that number climbed to a whopping 500 times what they consider the threshold for necessary safety testing.

That is no small number and is definitely enough for me to simply make a different choice when purchasing sunscreen. You can find more data in this helpful sunscreen safety info graph issued by the FDA. While some potentially unsafe sunscreen ingredients are still considered "acceptable", the FDA also holds that 12 of them (cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, and avobenzone) still need more safety testing.

The good news is the Food and Drug Administration clearly states that mineral-based sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as an active ingredient is a safe and effective alternative. I’ve recently found a mineral sunscreen that I’m very happy with. This Malina New York Organic Sunscreen just might be my HG sunscreen. Its non-nano zinc oxide displays broader coverage against UVB, UVA, and blue light than nano zinc oxide. The addition of natural plant-based oils, Vitamin E and shea butter creates such a luxurious texture that nourishes and moisturizes the skin. Whenever I have this sunscreen on, I really don't need my usual body or face creams.

Malina New York is working on a non-comodogenic version, which is set to debut sometime this Fall, though their current formula hasn’t caused any breakouts for me (I have sensitive balanced skin). It’s available in several different naturally-scented options like lavender, peppermint, and vanilla; which all smell so good. It's a nice subtle concentration of those scents that it isn't overpowering at all, However my favorite is their Olive Oil Natural Sunscreen. Because I'm incredibly sensitive, I love that it’s fragrance-free, and just like all of their sunscreens, it has a minimal and all-natural ingredient list.

Are you thinking about making the switch to a healthy safer sunscreen? You can shop my top picks from Malina New York below, and I urge you to help share this information so that it doesn't get lost in the sea of misinformation. Swapping out potentially harmful sunscreen for a perfectly safe and effective mineral sunscreen is so easy. It’s become the obvious choice for me and my kids.

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