Finding a safe sunscreen


Because my son uses sunscreen all year round, last year after the Environmental Working Group published a report highlighting a potential carcinogenic risk with sunscreens that contain retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A, we looked again carefully at the sunscreens we were using. Regulations about sunscreen ingredients are tighter in the EU than in the US but I still wanted to check:

Many sunscreen makers still use a form of vitamin A, called retinyl palmitate, ignoring recent scientific research by the federal Food and Drug Administration indicating the chemical may be photocarcinogenic – that it may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin.

Source: EWG

When I started looking into what was in sunscreens, I was disheartened by the ingredients in many of them. Because the skin cancer rates are very high in immunosuppressed individuals we follow the general sun-safety advice and try to stay in the shade and use protective hats and clothing when we are out in the sun but now if we have to be in the sun we use sunscreens that don’t use vitamin A or its derivatives and which don’t contain the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone or any other nasty ingredients.

The EWG have compiled a database which is a great starting point for finding a safe sunscreen. Last year I used the database to search for a low hazard, safer sunscreen and settled on Soleo (which you can buy in the UK from The Greenstop). I wanted a sunscreen that was mineral- not chemical-based and contained zinc oxide rather than titanium dioxide as zinc oxide is considered safer. Although it is relatively expensive we have been very pleased with the protection it gives.

Edited to add: this year we are trialling Badger unscented sunscreen and I’ll let you know what we think at the end of the summer.

Do you worry about what’s in your sunscreen?

Soleo, Badger and the Greenstop have not paid me to mention them, I just really like their products.

Photo: .D.B.

12 thoughts on “Finding a safe sunscreen

  1. Alison

    I remember reading about the vitamin a but I didn’t know about all the other chemicals, that’s quite a scary report. I need to check what’s in ours 🙁

  2. Emma

    I worry about sun cream, and well the sun in general a lot, as I have a not very good history with the sun. We’ve been using a Green People one this year and Badger, but I’d rather stay in the shade! 🙂


  3. Phoebe

    Very useful post. Thank you.

    I’m interested to know why skin cancer rates are so high in immunosuppressed people? I hadn’t heard that.

    1. ella

      Immunosuppression leaves people vulnerable to all types of cancer as the body works normally to suppress cancer cells from growing and multiplying. When you are immunesuppressed the cells can grow and multiply without the body checking them. So if there is a factor that can contribute to cancer, for example the sun and skin cancer, then that factor becomes much more relevant. As we all go out in the sun on our daily business it would follow that skin cancer rates might be higher. (Short term immunosuppression generally isn’t so relevant, it’s really long term immunosuppression where the rates are so very high.)

  4. Iota

    Yes, I absolutely do. Rubbing all those chemicals into your young child’s skin… I hate reading the ingredients list. I hadn’t heard specifically about the Vitamin A ingredient – that just confirms my fears. It does seem ridiculous that we’re applying a lotion that is meant to decrease the risk of skin cancer, but has an ingredient that increases that risk. How do things like that happen?

    My oldest was allergic to sunscreen. Brought out horrible facial eczema. Took me a while to realise. At first I thought it was a reaction to the sun, so just applied more and more sunscreen – poor child! It was REALLY hard to find one that was ok, because each brand would make his face flare up, then we’d have to wait for it to get better before trying the next (it was an expensive process too). Eventually we found one, and he has used it ever since. It’s by Minesol.

    For the rest of the family, I now buy ones from health shops that are as natural as possible (in my earlier days, I just stuck to the bigger commercial brands in Boots). I find they’re MUCH nicer to use as well. Much less greasy than the usual ones. Definitely worth the extra money. I’m guessing that the more natural ones would be ok for my allergic child, but I’m loathe to try.

    1. ella

      I am allergic to some sunscreens – they made my skin SO painful so I sympathise.

      Despite the extra expense I’m a total convert to natural sunscreens now.

  5. Katie

    Gosh, yes I worry about sunscreen (and make up too, and anything else I put on my skin). I wouldn’t dream of using sunscreens that are full of petrochemicals and god knows what else!

  6. Merry

    I have an endless dilemma with my children in that they just don’t burn. In fact, they hardly even change colour. They are all olive skinned, Daddy having Mediterranean heritage and they just don’t. Over the years, because some how slathering them in stuff also felt a bit odd, I’ve taught them to do hat, sensible clothing, sensible times in sun – and they’ve all managed to be errr… sensible! 4 children, 13 years, not one burned child ever.

    The other week I had another child with me and really realised how different to most mine are; I took her out and she was going red in 15 minutes. Argh!

    I do worry a bit; I know it is ‘burning’ that causes the damage and they really just don’t, nor do we really do excessive sunny holidays, so I’ve taken the ‘learn to manage exposure’ route with them – and looking at that chart, I’m glad I did!

    1. ella

      Some sun is good for the body anyway and if they don’t burn and you manage their exposure I think you’ve made a very sensible decision not to cover them in sunscreen!


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