The Dangers of Chemical Sunscreen

The safety of chemical sunscreen products has come under the microscope in recent years, since the FDA detected active ingredients were being absorbed into the bloodstream at unsafe levels, and found traces of Benzene and Benzophenone (carcinogens) in some chemical sunscreen products. So what is safe for our bodies? Physical Sunscreens are the only products confirmed as safe for human use, and Chemical Sunscreens (in our opinion) should be avoided.


A physical (mineral) sunscreen is a sunscreen that uses either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, to safely protect skin from the sun by sitting on top of the skin and reflecting UV rays. All Avocado Zinc products are 100% physical / mineral sunscreens, which means they use only zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to safely protect skin from the sun. These are the only ingredients that are confirmed as safe for humans, babies and coral reefs.

A chemical sunscreen is a sunscreen that uses any other active ingredient besides zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They protect the skin by absorbing UV rays. Here is a list of all Australian approved chemical sunscreen active ingredients, with some of the most common ingredients highlighted in bold: Bemotrizinol, Benzylidene camphor sulfonic acid, Butyl methoxy dibenzoylmethane, Camphor benzalkonium methosulfate, Cinoxate, Diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate, Dioxybenzone, Disodium phenyl dibenzimidazole tetrasulfonate, Drometrizole trisiloxane, Ecamsule, Homosalate, Isoamyl methoxy-cinnamate, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, Menthyl anthranilate, Methylene bis-benzo-triazolyl-tetramethyl-butylphenol, Octocrylene, Octyl methoxy-cinnamate, Octyl salicylate, Octyl triazone, Oxybenzone, Padimate O, PEG-25 PABA, Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, Polysilicone-15, Sulisobenzone, Sulisobenzone sodium, Triethanolamine salicylate, Tris-biphenyl triazine


In 2019, the FDA started to study the safety of active ingredients used in sunscreens. It found that only two ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (the only 2 physical/mineral actives in the world) could be classified as safe and effective.

All chemical sunscreen active ingredients are yet to be confirmed as safe and effective.

The FDA found that there were 6 active chemical ingredients in particular (Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene and Avobenzone) that can be absorbed into the bloodstream at levels that exceeded the FDA safety thresholds.

In the past few years, numerous studies have raised concerns about chemical active sunscreen ingredients causing skin irritation & allergies, hormone disruption, reproductive issues and even cancer.

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are now banned in places around the world such as Hawaii because of the damage they do to the coral reef and marine life when worn in the ocean. Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen reportedly end up in coral reefs every year. All Avocado Zinc products are reef friendly, because they do not contain any chemical actives. 


In 2021, the TGA started studying all chemical sunscreens to detect levels of Benzene and Benzophenone (both known carcinogens), following reports from the US that Benzene and Benzophenone had been found in some sunscreen products, particularly aerosol products.

Benzene is not an ingredient in sunscreens, but is suspected to be a contaminant from raw materials used in the manufacture of chemical sunscreens. It is a substance that could potentially cause cancer depending on the level and extent of exposure.

Benzophenone is also not an ingredient, but sunscreens that contain the active ingredient “Octocrylene”, may contain benzophenone impurities. In certain conditions, Octocrylene may breakdown to form trace amounts of the chemical benzophenone which is a possible human carcinogen.

All active sunscreen ingredients are deemed a concern when exposed through inhalation. For this reason, we recommend avoiding all powdered or spray/aerosol formulations of sunscreen.

So far, the following sunscreens have been recalled in Australia in 2021/2022:

List of Sunscreens Recalled 2021

List of Sunscreens Recalled 2022


The easiest way to pick a safe sunscreen is by shopping with Avocado Zinc! All of our products are completely free from chemical actives, preservatives, fragrances, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, alcohol and PEG's and are baby safe, reef friendly and non-toxic. 

Otherwise, you can follow this "Safe Sunscreen Checklist":

  1. Make sure it is a 100% Physical / Mineral Sunscreen. Check the active ingredients - make sure it lists only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as an active ingredient. Any other active ingredient is a chemical active ingredient, and should be avoided.
  2. If you must use a chemical sunscreen, ensure that it does not contain any of the following ingredients: Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene and Avobenzone
  3. Avoid all aerosol / spray / powder formulations as all sunscreens can be toxic when inhaled.
  4. For optimum health, pick a sunscreen that is oil based and contains zero water. This will enable it to be completely preservative free. Choose products that are free from Fragrance / Parfum, Parabens, Sulfates (SLS/SLES), Phthalates, PEG’s and Preservatives such as Phenoxyethanol.

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