A Guide to Sunscreen, SPF, & Safe Ingredients

Sunscreen isn’t just something you should throw in your beach or pool bag – it’s a daily necessity to shield our delicate skin from the sun's damaging UV rays. 

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, at least 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 – but using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma.

Additionally, daily sunscreen can also be beneficial in preventing notable signs of aging. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that up to 80% of skin aging is caused by the sun, and people who use an SPF of 15 or higher daily show 24% less skin aging than those who do not. 

Chances are, you already knew all of this – but did you know that not all sunscreens are created equal? 

Many are created with subpar, even toxic ingredients that can potentially cause more health concerns in both adults and children. 

That’s why, in today’s blog post, we’re diving deeper into the value of safe sunscreen and SPF, how to pick the right products for your family, and which ingredients you should always avoid. 

Let’s jump in. 

Why Daily SPF Matters

The sun emits two types of harmful UV rays: UVA and UVB. These rays can both penetrate the skin, leading to a range of issues, from premature aging and sunburn to an increased risk of skin cancer. 

Incorporating sunscreen into your daily skincare routine is highly recommended by both medical and wellness professionals. Remember that UV rays can penetrate clouds and windows, which means you can experience sun damage at any time on any day. 

By applying sunscreen daily, you create a barrier against UV damage, preserving your skin's health and vitality. Unfortunately, only about 13.5% of U.S. adults currently use sunscreen daily as of studies done in 2023, despite the growing need for sun protection. 

What Does SPF Mean?

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, measures a sunscreen's ability to protect against UVB rays, which are primarily responsible for causing sunburn and contributing to skin cancer. 

Contrary to popular belief, SPF does not solely indicate the duration of protection; rather, it quantifies the level of protection. For instance, SPF 30 filters out approximately 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 filters out about 98%, offering marginally higher protection.

For the best level of protection, the FDA recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and a higher SPF of 30 to 50 for fair skin. 

The Importance of Safe Sunscreen Ingredients

Sunscreen formulations vary widely, and not all ingredients are equally safe or protective. When selecting a sunscreen, opt for broad-spectrum protection, which shields against both UVA and UVB rays. 

Chemical sunscreens contain active ingredients that absorb UV radiation, while mineral (physical) sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which act as physical barriers, reflecting and scattering UV rays away from the skin.

Therefore, it’s generally advisable to seek mineral sunscreens over chemical sunscreens, as their ingredients are less likely to clog pores, cause irritation, or trigger bad reactions. 

Across the board, there are some chemicals and ingredients we highly recommend avoiding.

Red Flag Sunscreen Ingredients

Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3)

Oxybenzone is a chemical UV filter commonly found in sunscreens. You’ve probably already seen it in the news due to its association with coral reef bleaching and ecological damage in marine environments.

Additionally, oxybenzone has been shown to have potential hormone-disrupting effects, raising concerns about its safety for human health, particularly in children and pregnant women. 

Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate)

Like oxybenzone, octinoxate is a chemical UV filter that has been linked to coral reef degradation. Furthermore, octinoxate has been shown to have estrogenic activity in laboratory studies, raising concerns about its potential hormone-disrupting effects in humans.

Retinyl Palmitate 

Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A often added to sunscreens for its purported anti-aging benefits. However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has reported that this chemical is undergoing investigation as a possible photo carcinogen, meaning it may actually speed the development of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin. 

More research is needed to confirm this, but to err on the side of caution, we recommend avoiding any sunscreens with retinyl palmitate.  


Octocrylene is another chemical UV filter used in sunscreens to absorb UVB and some UVA rays. Unfortunately, some studies have raised concerns about octocrylene's potential to generate free radicals when exposed to UV light, which may contribute to skin aging and DNA damage.

Additionally, octocrylene has been detected in the environment, including in waterways and marine organisms, prompting concerns about its impact on aquatic ecosystems.

Green Flag Sunscreen Ingredients 

We hate being negative, so let’s talk about some positive ingredients to look for in your next sunscreen. All of these are green flags, indicating that the sunscreen is more likely to be non-toxic and safe for your family. 

Zinc Oxide

This is essentially the “hero” of safe sunscreens. Zinc oxide is a mineral sunscreen ingredient that provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. It works by forming a physical barrier on the skin's surface, reflecting and scattering UV radiation away from the skin.

Zinc oxide is widely considered safe and gentle, making it suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin and children. Unlike many chemical UV filters, zinc is not absorbed into the skin, reducing the risk of systemic exposure and potential health concerns.

Titanium Dioxide

Like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide is a mineral sunscreen ingredient that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It is non-irritating and non-allergenic, making it suitable for sensitive skin types.

How to Tell If Your Sunscreen Is Actually Safe 

✓ Review the Ingredient List

As we just shared, ingredients matter. Carefully examine the list on your sunscreen to ensure it does not contain potentially harmful chemicals. If you want to be extra careful, consider using a smartphone app like Yuka to triple-check the safety of certain ingredients. 

✓ Check for Third-Party Certifications

Another great tip is to look for sunscreen products that have been independently tested and certified by reputable organizations. 

Third-party certifications, such as the Skin Cancer Foundation's Seal of Recommendation, can indicate that the product meets specific safety and efficacy standards. They also indicate that the sunscreen has undergone rigorous testing and evaluation by experts in dermatology and environmental science.

✓ Look for Reef-Safe Formulations

Lastly, choose sunscreen products that are labeled as "reef-safe" (not just “reef-friendly) to minimize the environmental impact on coral reefs and marine ecosystems. 

Truly reef-safe sunscreens are formulated without oxybenzone and octinoxate. By selecting these sunscreens, you can help protect fragile marine environments while enjoying time in the sun.

What Sunscreen Is Safe for Babies & Children? 

It’s important for all of us to pay attention to what’s in our sunscreens, but it’s especially crucial that we scrutinize what we’re putting on our young children’s skin. So, here are some tips for choosing safe sunscreen for babies and toddlers:

Buy Mineral Sunscreens

Opt for mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. These mineral filters provide gentle and effective protection by creating a physical barrier on the skin's surface, reflecting and scattering UV rays away from delicate skin. 

Mineral sunscreens are also less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions, making them ideal for babies and young children with sensitive skin.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Steer clear of sunscreens containing harsh chemical filters, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone, which may be too harsh for a baby's sensitive skin. Chemical sunscreens can also pose a risk of irritation or allergic reactions, especially in young children with developing skin barriers.

Look for Gentle Formulations

Select sunscreen formulations specifically designed for babies and young children, as these are formulated to be gentle and non-irritating. Look for labels such as "baby sunscreen" or "children's sunscreen," indicating that the product has been formulated with their delicate skin in mind. 

These formulations are often hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and free from potential irritants, reducing the risk of adverse reactions.

Shop Our Non-Toxic Sunscreens for the Whole Family

Sunscreen is a cornerstone of effective sun protection, offering essential defense against the sun's harmful UV rays. Although any protection is arguably better than none, it’s still important for us to assess what goes into our products and select the safest, most beneficial options for our families. 

At Original Sprout, our Face & Body Sunscreen is specifically designed to offer safe, broad-spectrum protection. It’s made with non-nanoparticles of natural zinc, won’t clog pores, and is safe for users of all ages. 

Have questions about our formula or other products? Reach out today. We’re happy to discuss everything that goes into our skin and hair care essentials.

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