What's in Your Sunscreen?!

Skin cancer rates are soaring in Australia with a rise of 7% in women and 19% in men between 1993 - 2003 (1) and an expected rise of another 11% percent by 2011 (2).  Some other startling statistics include:

  • skin cancers account for 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers.
  • two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.
  • around 434,000 people are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers, with 420 people dying each year.
  • more than 10,300 people are treated for melanoma, with 1430 people dying each year.
  • melanoma is the most common cancer in people aged 15-44 years.
  • excluding non-melanoma skin cancer (which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer according to general practice and hospitals data, however there is no reporting of cases to cancer registries) melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in both women and men.

There has been much debate in recent years over sunscreens and whether they are reducing or increasing the risk of skin cancer.  Sunscreens should be protecting us from skin cancer, however there is increasing evidence that particular sunscreen ingredients may be linked to increased risks of malignant melanoma, a rarer but more deadly form of skin cancer. These ingredients include (2,3,4):

  • oxybenzone,
  • benzophenone,
  • octocrylene,
  • octyl methoxycinnamate and
  • Paramine Benzoic Acid, PABA.

Statistical research indicates that the highest incidences of

skin cancer

occur in countries where the use of

chemical sunscreens

containing benzophenone and oxybenzone and PABA (Paramino Benzoic Acid) and other potentially cancer-causing chemicals have been heavily promoted (2).  Australia has one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world, at nearly four times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK (1).


has now been proven to cause damage to the DNA structure, increasing the risk of skin cancer and today, the use of PABA is being phased out of sunscreens because of allergy and carcinogenicity concerns (2).  Unfortunately though, millions of people have already been affected by the use of sunscreens containing PABA already. Other ingredients to avoid in sunscreens include (4):

  • Titanium Dioxide,
  • Salycilates,
  • Cinnamates,
  • Mineral oil,
  • Eusolex 6300,
  • Psolaren,
  • Mexenone and
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate.

The use of sunscreen has also been linked to Vitamin D deficiency and ironically, there are indications that Vitamin D deficiency may lead to skin cancer as well as other forms of cancer (3). Another recent cause for concern is the use of Nanoparticles in sunscreen


. Nanoparticles are smaller than 100 nanometres and invisible to the human eye – a nanometre is 0.000001 millimetre. Sunscreens also use ‘microfine’ or ‘micronised’ particles, which are smaller than those used in conventional white zinc sunscreens, however are larger than nanoparticles – usually in the range of 100 to 2500 nanometres (5).  Research indicates that if nanoparticles are inhaled, eaten, or absorbed through our skin they can pose health problems as they can produce free radicals and damage DNA, especially when exposed to UV light.  Early results indicate that zinc from nano-sunscreens is absorbed through the skin and reaches the blood and urine of human test subjects (6). Unfortunately the Australian government does not require sunscreen or cosmetics manufacturers to test the safety of nano-ingredients nor to label them.  Friends of the Earth however have recently published a  information booklet  on

nano ingredients in Sunscreen

 (6) which includes a list of sunscreens that claim to have no nano ingredients.   Click on the following link for a comparison of chemical free sunscreens, including those without nano ingredients:

Chemical Free Sunscreen Comparison Table

The US based government watchdog and safety advocacy group ‘Environmental Working Group’ have recently published their 4


annual report on sunscreen and it's effectiveness, including a claim that some sunscreens can accelerate skin cancer (7). The group analyzed 500 different sunscreen brands and only 39, or 8 percent, met the mark for their standards. Even more alarming is their claim that a vitamin A derivative, an ingredient found in many sunscreens, may accelerate skin cancer. This is quite contrary to what we have been told for decades about the preventative properties of sunscreen. The report also claims that high SPF numbers give us a false sense of security and that we are not receiving the protection from harmful UV rays as well as we think.

Read the full report.

Skin cancer is very slow to develop and this is a real concern, because damage from the sun and the harmful suncreen chemicals people apply to their skin may take 20 years or more to develop skin cancer (2).   Until there is further evidence, the best skin cancer prevention and protection is to:

  • minimize sun exposure as much as possible especially between 11:00am and 3:00pm when the UV rays are at its strongest.  
  • If sun exposure is unavoidable, then WEAR A HAT, WEAR A SHIRT, and
  • use a CHEMICAL FREE SUNSCREEN (with UVA and UVB protection) to stay protected. 

Click here for a

Chemical Free Sunscreen Comparison Table


Green Life Organics

will be stocking the following chemical free sunscreens  in the New Year:

  • Soleo,
  • Wot Not,
  • Miessence and
  • Invisible Zinc. 

If you would like to enter our competition to WIN a Miessence Reflect Outdoor Balm, SPF15, then all you need to do is subscribe to our newsletter at

or refer two friends to ‘like’ our Facebook page. If you have any comments or you know of any other good chemical free brands, then do let us know.  Have fun this summer…….! Tanya


  4. Peter Dingle amp; Toni Brown, Dangerous Beauty Cosmetics and Personal Care

  Further information on sunscreens can also be found at:

Comments (5)


Natural Organic Sunscreen for babies and kids | Green Life Organics Blog

Feb 24, 2011 02:42 PM BST

[...] on from a previous GreenLifeOrganics blog ‘what’s in your sunscreen?’, this month we are featuring some natural, organic sunscreens that are suitable for babies and [...]



Feb 13, 2011 07:17 AM BST

Hi and thanks for your comment! GreenLifeOrganics does have a Facebook Page. We are also now on Twitter!


grants for women

Jan 21, 2011 06:37 PM BST

Do you people have a facebook fan page? I looked for one on twitter but could not discover one, I would really like to become a fan!


Prostate Cancer Symptoms

Dec 22, 2010 01:29 PM BST

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!


Tweets that mention Chemical Free Sunscreens | Green Life Organics Blog --

Dec 14, 2010 11:59 AM BST

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tanya Maidment, Tanya Maidment. Tanya Maidment said: Want to know about potentially harmful ingredients in sunscreen? #perimg [...]

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