Are Chemical Sunscreens Safe?

An Australian dermatologist debunks the myths

You’ve probably been told that applying SPF is a non-negotiable beauty rule. Whether it’s an existing ingredient in your foundation or an additional step in your morning regimen, we’ve been told time and time again that we shouldn’t skimp on sun protection.

It’s well established that sunscreen is vital in preventing skin cancer yet, a new study has raised questions over whether sunscreen contains harmful chemicals that pose a risk to our overall health

Enter the chemical versus natural sunscreen debate – which has been circulating lately and getting more confusing by the day. Amid all the questions and jargon, leading Australian Dermatologist Dr. Katherine Armour says that by no means should Australians panic or eschew their daily sunscreen application.

A  scientific study published by the U.S. Food And Drug Administration has been making headlines after finding that chemicals in sunscreen are being absorbed into the bloodstream at much higher levels than recommended causing concern about the potential health implications. 

According to the FDA’s findings, common sunscreen ingredients – avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octocrylene  – were detected in blood samples at levels that exceed the threshold recommended for toxicology testing during a small randomised clinical trial. 

RELATED: The Sunscreen Mistake Australian Women Are Making Every Day

“Its crucial to constantly re-evaluate the safety and efficacy of personal care products such as sunscreens, as well as medications. That is what this study is doing.  However, clinical investigation using sunscreen in a manner which is more representative of real life sunscreen use, and in many more people, is needed before any clear conclusions can be drawn,” Dr. Armour explains. 

It’s worth noting that the 24 study participants were broken into four groups and asked to apply sunscreen four times a day to 75 percent of their body. Admitally, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who is that diligent about their daily routine.

Are chemical sunscreens dangerous?

In short: the benefits far outweigh any potential risks. “What we do know is that excessive sun exposure causes many important adverse effects on the skin such as non-melanoma skin cancers, and melanoma, in which we have the dubious honour of leading the world statistics. This is before we even discuss the effects of ultraviolet light on skin ageing,” Dr. Armour says.   

“We know that Sun Smart practices such as avoiding sun exposure in the middle of the day, applying sunscreen in adequate amounts, and covering up with hats and clothing, reduces the rates of these skin malignancies, and slows skin aging.  So, at the moment, I would recommend that we continue to use sunscreens. “

Chemical vs Physical sunscreen. What’s the difference? 

Simply, chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that absorb UVA and UVB rays so that’s can’t penetrate and cause damage while physical sunscreens work to deflect UVA and UVBs creating a physical barrier (hence the name). 

Physical sunscreens contain natural agents like zinc and titanium oxide. If you’re still concerned about using a chemical sunscreen, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite physical sun protection formulas to try. 

Ultra Violette Queen Screen SPF 50+ ($47; at

Boasting a serum-like texture that feels like you’re wearing nothing at all. This glow-boosting product contains Kakadu Plum which is naturally high in vitamin c. 

Bespoke Skin Technology Complete Daily Armour ($240; at
Designed to combat UV and environmental damage, this luxurious daily cream is formulated with antioxidants, zinc oxide and vitamin B3. 
Bespoke Skin Technology

Medik8 Physical Sunscreen ($78; at

This lightweight face cream contains trusted physical filters, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, to reflect the sun’s radiation away from the skin. 


Invisible Zinc Sheer Defence Tinted Moisturiser SPF50 ($34; at

This is a lightweight tinted formula perfect for those no make-up days when you still want some coverage. Free from chemical ingredients, this physical sunscreen is made with Zinc Oxide to offer maximum UV protection. 


Go-To Zincredible ($45; at

Perfect for creating a natural-looking, dewy everyday base. What’s more? As the name suggests, Zincredible is a physical sunscreen with SPF 15 protection. 

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