Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun

Sunscreen, also known as sunfilter or sunblock, is a photoprotective topical product for the skin that absorbs or reflects some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation and thus helps protect against sunburn and most importantly prevent skin cancer. Sunscreens come as lotions, sprays, gels, foams (such as an expanded foam lotion or whipped lotion), sticks, powders and other topical products.

Sunscreens are classified into inorganic (mistakenly called ‘physical’) sunscreens (i.e., zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) and organic (also, mistakenly referred to as ‘chemical’) sunscreens.

Despite popular belief, both types of sunscreens work mainly by absorption of UV light(UV-Absorbers)

Diligent use of sunscreen can also help to slow or temporarily prevent the development of wrinkles, dark spots and sagging skin.

In addition to moisturizers and other inactive ingredients, sunscreens contain one or more of the following active ingredients, which are either organic or mineral in nature:

  • Organic chemical compounds that absorb ultraviolet light(UV-Absorbers).
  • Inorganic particulates that reflect, scatter, and absorb UV light (such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or a combination of both).
  • Organic substances that mostly absorb UV light like organic chemical compounds, but contain multiple chromophores that reflect and scatter a fraction of light like inorganic particulates. An example is Tinosorb M. The mode of action is about 90% by absorption and 10% by scattering.

Sunscreening agents are used in some hair care products such as shampoos, conditioners and styling agents to protect against protein degradation and color loss. Currently, benzophenone-4 and ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate are the two sunscreens most commonly used in hair products.

The following UV-absorbers are the FDA allowable active ingredients in sunscreens:

UV-filterOther namesMaximum concentrationPermitted in these countriesResults of safety testingUVAUVB
p-Aminobenzoic acidPABA15% (EU: banned from sale to consumers from 8 October 2009)USA, AUSProtects against skin tumors in mice.[76][77][78] Shown to increase DNA defects, however, and is now less commonly used. X
Padimate OOD-PABA, octyldimethyl-PABA, σ-PABA8% (EU, USA, AUS) 10% (JP)(Not currently supported in EU and may be delisted)EU, USA, AUS, JP  X
Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acidEnsulizole, Eusolex 232, PBSA, Parsol HS4% (US, AUS) 8% (EU) 3% (JP)EU, USA, AUS, JPGenotoxic in bacteria[79] X
Cinoxate2-Ethoxyethyl p-methoxycinnamate3% (US) 6% (AUS)USA, AUS XX
DioxybenzoneBenzophenone-83%USA, AUS XX
OxybenzoneBenzophenone-3, Eusolex 4360, Escalol 5676% (US) 10% (AUS, EU)EU, USA, AUS XX
HomosalateHomomethyl salicylate, HMS10% (EU) 15% (US, AUS)EU, USA, AUS  X
Menthyl anthranilateMeradimate5%USA, AUS X 
OctocryleneEusolex OCR, Parsol 340, 2-Cyano-3,3-diphenyl acrylic acid, 2-ethylhexylester10%EU, USA, AUSIncreases reactive oxygen species (ROS)[80]XX
Octyl methoxycinnamateOctinoxate, EMC, OMC, Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, Escalol 557, 2-Ethylhexyl-paramethoxycinnamate, Parsol MCX7.5% (US) 10% (EU, AUS) 20% (JP)EU, USA, AUS, JPBanned in Hawaii since 2021 – harmful to coral[81] X
Octyl salicylateOctisalate, 2-Ethylhexyl salicylate, Escalol 587,5% (EU, USA, AUS) 10% (JP)EU, USA, AUS, JP  X
Sulisobenzone2-Hydroxy-4-Methoxybenzophenone-5-sulfonic acid, 3-Benzoyl-4-hydroxy-6-methoxybenzenesulfonic acid, Benzophenone-4, Escalol 5775% (EU) 10% (US, AUS, JP)EU, USA, AUS, JP XX
Trolamine salicylateTriethanolamine salicylate12%USA, AUS  X
phenyl)propane-1,3-dione, Butyl methoxy dibenzoylmethane, BMDBM, Parsol 1789, Eusolex 9020
3% (US) 5% (EU, AUS)EU, USA, AUS X 
EcamsuleMexoryl SX, Terephthalylidene Dicamphor Sulfonic Acid10%EU, AUS (US: approved in certain formulations up to 3% via New Drug Application (NDA) Route)Protects against skin tumors in mice[82][83][84]X 
Titanium dioxideCI77891, TiO₂25% (US) No limit (JP)EU, USA, AUS, JP  X
Zinc oxideCI77947, ZnO25% (US) No limit (AUS, JP)EU, USA, AUS, JPProtects against skin tumors in mice[82]XX

Zinc oxide was approved as a UV filter by the EU in 2016.[85]

Other ingredients approved within the EU[86] and other parts of the world,[87] that have not been included in the current FDA Monograph:

UV-filterOther namesMaximum concentrationPermitted in
4-Methylbenzylidene camphorEnzacamene, Parsol 5000, Eusolex 6300, MBC4%*EU, AUS
Parsol Max, Tinosorb MBisoctrizole, Methylene Bis-Benzotriazolyl Tetramethylbutylphenol, MBBT10%*EU, AUS, JP
Parsol Shield, Tinosorb SBis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenol triazine, Bemotrizinol, BEMT, anisotriazine10% (EU, AUS) 3% (JP)*EU, AUS, JP
Tinosorb A2BTris-Biphenyl Triazine10%EU
Neo Heliopan APBisdisulizole Disodium, Disodium phenyl dibenzimidazole tetrasulfonate, bisimidazylate, DPDT10%EU, AUS
Mexoryl XLDrometrizole Trisiloxane15%EU, AUS
Benzophenone-9Uvinul DS 49, CAS 3121-60-6, Sodium Dihydroxy Dimethoxy Disulfobenzophenone [88]10%JP
Uvinul T 150Octyl triazone, ethylhexyl triazone, EHT5% (EU, AUS) 3% (JP)*EU, AUS
Uvinul A PlusDiethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate10% (EU, JP)EU, JP
Uvasorb HEBIscotrizinol, Diethylhexyl butamido triazone, DBT10% (EU) 5% (JP)*EU, JP
Parsol SLXDimethico-diethylbenzalmalonate, Polysilicone-1510%EU, AUS, JP
AmiloxateIsopentyl-4-methoxycinnamate, Isoamyl p-Methoxycinnamate, IMC, Neo Heliopan E100010%*EU, AUS

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