Sunscreen UV Filters Unmasked: Must-Haves and No-Nos

We know the hustle and bustle of city life doesn't spare us from the mighty sun's rays. But have you ever wondered what goes into that skin saviour we call sunscreen? Well, get ready to embark on an ingredient safari as we explore the world of sunscreens and discover which UV filters make the cut, which ones stir up controversy, and which ones are perfect for sensitive skin.

Sunscreen Filters: The Guardians of Your Skin

Let's start with the superheroes of sunscreens - sunscreen filters. These remarkable ingredients shield your skin from harmful UV rays and HEV (blue light), preventing sunburns and reducing the risk of skin cancer. The two main types of sun filters you'll often encounter are called 'physical filters' and 'chemical filters'.


🛡️ PHYSICAL FILTERS are like a protective shield that sits on top of your skin, reflecting and scattering UV rays away from your delicate cells. These filters are mineral and are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and iron oxide, are often better tolerated by sensitive skin and tend to be less controversial. They work their magic as soon as you apply them, making them a popular choice for those seeking immediate protection.


🧪 CHEMICAL FILTERS  work like miniature sponges, absorbing UV rays and blue light (HEV) before they can penetrate your skin. They undergo a chemical reaction that transforms the UV rays into heat, which is then released from your skin. Common chemical filters include avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate. However, some of these ingredients have faced controversy due to their potential effects on the environment and the human body, so you might want to keep an eye out for alternative options.

✔️ Sunscreen Superheroes: Safe Filters to the Rescue

When it comes to safe and non-irritating UVA and UVB physical and chemical filters, you've got plenty of reliable choices for keeping your skin sun-protected and happy. These filters have been put through strict tests to make sure they're safe to use. Check out some examples of these awesome filters:

✔️ zinc oxide 

✔️ titanium dioxide when combined with zinc oxide

and latest technology chemical filters (approved in the EU, UK, Canada, Australia, Asean countries but not in the USA):

✔️ bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine

✔️ methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol

✔️ tris-biphenyl triazine

✔️ diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate

✔️ ethylhexyl triazone


🧴 Sensitive Skin Saviors: Filters that Soothe and Protect

Sensitive skin can be quite the diva, easily irritated by harsh ingredients. There are sunscreens out there that cater to your skin's needs. Look for ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as they are generally well-tolerated by sensitive skin. These physical filters provide broad-spectrum (UVA + UVB) protection while minimizing the risk of irritation or allergic reactions. Zinc oxide is a very safe anti-inflammatory ingredient that forms a physical barrier on the skin, thus protecting it from irritants, and wetness. Combined with titanium dioxide, zinc oxide is the best option of filters even for the little ones.

If your skin is really delicate and prone, to dermatitis, look for "fragrance-free" sunscreens to further reduce the chances of any unpleasant surprises.

 The safest broad-spectrum (UVA+UVB) filters for all skin types are:

🧴 zinc oxide 

🧴 titanium dioxide when combined with zinc oxide


❓ Controversial Filters: Proceed with Caution

While most sunscreen ingredients are well-established and deemed safe, a few have sparked controversy in recent years. One such ingredient is oxybenzone, which has raised concerns due to its potential hormone-disrupting properties, skin irritation and environmental impact. It is important to note that the data surrounding the hormone disruption potential of oxybenzone is still limited.

In the past year, the European Commission has reevaluated the safety of three chemical UV filters: oxybenzone, homosalate, and octocrylene and proposed concentration limits of 2.2 % for oxybenzone and 1.4 % for homosalate in order to prevent potential skin irritation.  Interestingly, in the United States, sunscreen manufacturers are legally permitted to use higher concentrations, up to 6 % for oxybenzone and 15 % for homosalate. Be aware that when buying a sunscreen made for the US market, it may contain higher concentration of some controversial ingredients. Asean countries tend to follow EU regulations and dermal limits.

If you have sensitive skin, best of you avoid the following potentially irritating ingredients or chose a product with low concentration of:

❓ oxybenzone

❓ avobenzone

❓ octocrylene

❓ homosalate

❓ octinoxate


🐟 Sunscreen’s Environmental Toll

In recent years, numerous studies have delved into the potential ecological consequences of sunscreen components on coral reefs, aquatic flora, marine creatures, and more. Although the research is ongoing and conclusive evidence is still being gathered, it has sparked concerns regarding the potential harm caused by certain sunscreen ingredients.

Among the culprits, oxybenzone and octinoxate have emerged as the primary suspects. Take oxybenzone;  in high concentration, it has been showed that it has a major toxicological effect on plants and algae, critical food for coral reef fish and other marine life.

Hawaii has banned in 2021 sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate; Australia and New Zealand allow the use of oxybenzone and octinoxate in line with TGA approved standards at  max 3%.

Ingredients that are currently considered not reef-friendly are:

❌ oxybenzone

❌ avobenzone

❌ octocrylene

❌ homosalate

❌ octinoxate

How to identify which filters are in my sunscreen? 

It's essential to pay attention to the ingredient list on sunscreen labels, especially when it comes to identifying the UV filters used and any potentially controversial ingredients. By knowing which ones are in your sunscreen, you can make sure you're getting the best defense against both UVA and UVB rays. But wait, there's more! Controversial ingredients, like skin irritants or environmental unfriendlies, can sneak their way into some products. By spotting them on the label, you can make informed choices that are kind to your skin and the planet. So, remember to check those sunscreen labels, know your UV filters, and steer clear of any unwanted surprises. Keep your skin happy and the environment smiling!

*** not all sun filters listed are available in all countries. 

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