beach sun care hat

Last week I was raving about minerals as my sunscreen agent of choice. This week I hope to prove to you why.

Here are some of the most commonly used chemical sunscreens explained.


Avobenzone is a chemical sunscreen that protects from the entire spectrum of UVA rays. For this reason, it’s commonly used in sun protection products. There has been very little indication of avobenzone being toxic or irritating to the skin. It has limited skin penetration properties however as it is found in urine after continuous usage,  it’s not the best option for babies or during pregnancy.

Avobenzone on its own carries a low health risk. The challenge that occurs with this ingredient is stability. As much as it’s the safest option for UVA protection among chemical sunscreen agents, it starts breaking down very quickly after being exposed to UV rays. Essentially loosening its strength to do its job. This is the reason for sun care products usually being accompanied by one of the stabilizers that aren’t always good news (see Octocrylene and even Oxybenzone below).

You will find it in products under the names avobenzone, methoxydibenzoylmethane or Parsol 1789.


Oxybenzone in sunscreen has two main functions – sunscreen (UVB and short UVA rays) and stabilizer. As a sunscreen, it’s not very reliable, so it is always used in conjunction with other sunscreen agents.

Oxybenzone is also one of the most powerful free radical generators known. When penetrating the skin it can cause photosensitivity, create free radicals and can even damage your DNA. According to some studies, its behavior is similar to the hormone estrogen and as such causes hormonal disruption. It has also been associated with endometriosis in women and has been proven toxic to reproductive systems. Do I need to mention high rates of skin allergy?

In recent studies, it was detected in more than 96% of the American population and in 85% of breast milk samples.

To sum up, Oxybenzone is not the best sunscreen AND has all these listed side effects. Not for me, thank you. Oxybenzone is present in more than 60% of commercial sunscreens; best to keep an eye on it!


Octocrylene is commonly listed in the INCI list with avobenzone. As a sunscreen it doesn’t do a very good job, however, it does improve skin coating levels of the product and can stabilize others – more effective sunscreen agents – avobenzone for example. Its main function is to prevent sunscreens from breaking down and to boost their performance. It’s essentially viagra for avobenzone 🙂

As with all previously mentioned ingredients, it has its dark side. First and foremost it’s a big allergen – causing contact dermatitis in children and photo contact allergies in adults.

It penetrates the skin and forms free radical damage that can lead to DNA damage.  It’s also (among other chemical sunscreens) been found in breast milk.

There are four newer sunscreen agents which have been created by the beauty giants. L’Oreal brand La Roche-Posay developed Mexoryl SX. La Roche-Posay was proven to be safer, with a more stable broader spectrum protecting sunscreen than the old school avobenzone. BASF developed Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M. They haven’t been on the market long enough to give them a proper thumbs up (or down) in terms of their impact on the human body.

As you might have noticed, I haven’t mentioned any correlation of described sunscreens to melanoma/skin cancer. There have been many different studies about it, but there is still no proven evidence to suggest that the ingredients in sun care products are directly connected to skin cancer.

This was a very brief description of the most common chemical sunscreen agents used in products available to the average user. If you would like to dig deeper into the scientific aspect of the whole sun protection world, here are some links for further reading: link, link, link, link, and link.

And just one more thing…the sunscreen saga is not over just yet!