12 sunscreen ingredients the FDA could ban

It’s becoming more and more obvious that the sunscreen we’re told to apply religiously all summer long (heck, all year long) comes with serious baggage…

And by baggage, I mean chemicals. It comes with potentially dangerous chemicals that are seeping into our bodies at excessive levels.

Earlier this year, I wrote about an FDA study that determined six common sunscreen chemicals are ending up in people’s blood at much higher levels than what they’ve deemed safe. In this study, FDA researchers found that the chemicals octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone often exceed the safe threshold of 0.5 nanograms (ng) per milliliter (mL) of blood plasma. In fact, in some cases, they exceed it by 360 times that threshold.

Researchers also found that blood levels of these chemicals can get too high after just one application of sunscreen and that they can stay high for as long as seven to 21 days after an application.

The results of this study only added to what the FDA already learned in a 2019 study, which showed four sunscreen chemicals (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule) end up in the bloodstream.

These two studies have (thankfully) lit a fire under the FDA’s butt about making sunscreen safer than it currently is. In fact, they’ve issued a few new proposals this year, which could seriously change sunscreen regulations in this country…

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Active ingredients in sunscreen: Safe, unsafe and somewhere in the middle

Earlier this year, the FDA proposed some major changes to sunscreen regulations. They haven’t finalized these regulations yet. But they most likely will before the year is up. Unfortunately, they won’t finalize these regulations by the end of summer… which means a lot of us could still be slathering ourselves up with sunscreen chemicals that will be phased out soon.

Right now, there are 16 active ingredients sunscreen manufacturers are allowed to put in sunscreen. But according to the FDA’s proposal, only two of them are truly safe and effective: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. What’s the deal with the rest?

PABA and trolamine salicylate are two active ingredients that the FDA has decided are definitely not safe. Luckily, those haven’t been added to sunscreen for a number of years. So, you don’t need to worry about them.

The FDA is asking for more data on the remaining 12 active ingredients from the sunscreen industry before they make a final decision. But the safety of some of those ingredients is highly questionable, which means you may want to avoid them even if the FDA doesn’t decide to give them the ax.

The chemical oxybenzone, for example, has been on the Environmental Working Group’s naughty list for quite a while, because there’s evidence it’s a hormone disruptor. There’s also evidence that’s in almost all (96 percent) of Americans’ blood and that it’s present in breast milk. Yikes.

And oxybenzone isn’t the only one of these chemicals linked to hormone disruption (although, it is the most concerning one). Octinoxate has been linked to delayed puberty and sperm abnormalities in mice. And one Danish study found that 13 chemical sunscreen ingredients allowed in the U.S. could contribute to lower fertility in men.

The FDA’s new proposed guidelines included a few other important takeaways… like the fact that sunscreen/bug repellant combos aren’t truly safe and effective. But the real focus here is identifying active sunscreen ingredients that aren’t dangerous… something that’s proven to be a lot more difficult than you would think.

How to buy safe sunscreen

Right now, it sounds like mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the safest options. Although, these are far from perfect and come with their own potential health risks. But allowing yourself to bake in the sun comes with some pretty serious health risks too, like skin cancer. So, it’s one of those times when you have to weigh your risks and benefits.

I’m a huge fan of the research performed by the Environmental Working Group on personal care and beauty products, as well as the guidelines they create to protect consumers. So, I highly recommend that you check out their safe sunscreen database before you go out and buy a new bottle of sunscreen. It’ll tell you exactly what ingredients you need to beware of (and why), as well as give you a list of the safest sunscreen brands out there. It’s worth a look before spending any more money on unsafe sunscreen


  1. What the Proposed New FDA Sunscreen Rules Could Mean for You — Good Housekeeping.
  2. Another FDA study shows the body absorbs chemicals in sunscreen products — Consumer Affairs.
  3. The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens — The Environmental Working Group.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.