NOT CONTENT: Synthetic Sunscreen Ingredients

Synthetic Sunscreens Banned
Posted in Content Beauty

NOT CONTENT is our blog series that highlights the ingredients you won’t find here at Content. In this post we take a look at synthetic sunscreens…

We have always edited out synthetic sunscreens and are often referred customers by dermatologists who are treating people with severe reactions to these ingredients.

An estimated 4,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers’ bodies annually, and sunscreen ingredients have been implicated in damaging our coral reefs, causing coral bleaching and decline. While using mineral sunscreens doesn’t solve all the issues – there are some studies that show that they too have an effect on our oceans (although at this stage it looks to be lesser). When you combine sensible use with general sunsmart tips, you can both reduce the amount that is washing into our oceans and avoid the most commonly researched culprits.

Natural Sunscreen Ingredients

Natural sunscreens use minerals to form a barrier on the skin. By using the mineral sunscreens titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, you are creating a physical barrier to redirect rays away to protect the skin. Synthetic sunscreens work differently by absorbing UV radiation. As the chemical bonds absorb UV radiation, the components of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat. This process may cause reactions in the sensitive.

Our selection of sunscreens with SPF from 15 to 30 or 50 use mineral, non-nano-physical sunscreens. But the best natural sunscreen is a physical block of sunlight. Simply keeping out of the sun and covering up should be prioritised ahead of all else where you can. Wear light long-sleeved shirts, long skirts or trousers, and a wide-brimmed hat, as well as avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm. For those that want to avoid the use of all sunscreens, simply swim in the early morning or evening hours. It may not be that sociable but you’ll avoid the sun as well as the crowds!

Synthetic Sunscreen Ingredients That Are NOT CONTENT

While there are several synthetic sunscreens we avoid, the one that has recently gained attention is Oxybenzone. This has been found in streams, rivers, lakes and marine environments. A peer reviewed study by Craig Downs on the effects of Oxybenzone and how it threatens coral reefs highlights how prevalent this ingredient is in our environment. While this can be explained by sunscreen washing off swimmers, interestingly the main source is thought to be waste-water effluent discharges. How does a synthetic sunscreen get into the sewage system? The Haereticus Environmental Laboratory highlights: “Oxybenzone can be absorbed directly through the skin, either from application of sunscreen product onto the skin, or by absorption from swimming in either swimming pools or along beaches.” Studies have shown that Oxybenzone in a sunscreen formulation can transfer from the lotion or spray into the body, and be detected in urine within 30 minutes to several hours of application.

In coral it can cause coral bleaching, DNA damage and more. This has led to Hawaii banning sunscreens with Oxybenzone and Octinoxate.

For us humans, Oxybenzone has been shown to induce photo-allergic contact dermatitis in 16%-25% of the population and is implicated in a range of changes in the endocrine system including: “An increased occurrence of endometriosis in women exposed to concentrations of oxybenzone.” Read more and view studies here.

Non-natural sunscreen ingredients you won’t find at CONTENT include:

Para-Aminobenzoic Acid

This has been banned in the EU and Canada. It should be avoided by the sensitive as there are concerns over allergic dermatitis and photo-sensitivity. It also shows carcinogenic potential. PABA derivatives, such as Padimate O, are now more commonly used but these too may have health concerns.


Highly reactive on the skin and may cause allergic reactions. Studies now show this leads to coral bleaching and the death of coral reefs by disrupting the way they grow and reproduce.


Moderately reactive on skin. United Nations Global Harmonized System Hazard Statements lists this ingredient as: “May cause long lasting harmful effects to aquatic life [Hazardous to the aquatic environment, long-term hazard]”.


May cause topical reactions.

Shop All Natural Sunscreens for Body | Shop: Natural Sunscreens for Face

Parts of this post were adapted from sections of The Nature of Beauty book by CONTENT founder Imelda Burke.