It’s Summer time in our neck of the woods, and that means surf, sand, and glorious sunshine, right?! Well, not if you, or your little one, suffer from an itchy skin condition. This time of year can be a nightmare trying to protect your skin from the damaging UV rays, and not creating a flare up from all the toxic chemicals that are in most sunblocks and sunscreens.

Like many creams we apply to our skin, we have to be very careful of what ‘nasty and toxic’ ingredients are lurking in our sunscreen. This is especially important knowing that up to 35% of sunscreen ingredients applied to your skin can enter your bloodstream. So it’s time to get the lowdown on all things sunscreen so you can make some wise choices this summer.

Why you need to say NO to conventional sunscreens

In 2014, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) created a safe guide for sunscreens. They reviewed over 2000 sunscreens and over 257 brands. They found more than 75% of the sunscreens contained toxic chemicals that can increase your risk of cancer and other health issues.

Here’s what their research had to say: Our review…shows that some sunscreen ingredients absorb into the blood, and some have toxic effects. Some release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, some act like estrogen and disrupt hormones, and several can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. The FDA has not established rigorous safety standards for sunscreen ingredients.” Sunscreens haven’t been regulated since 1978 in the USA, and the SPF factor only tells you how effective a sunscreen is against UVB rays, which cause sunburn.

In Australia and New Zealand, whilst our governments have done a fantastic job actively promoting mainstream awareness of skin cancer, and the importance of sunscreen in the last 25 years.  Unfortunately, there has been limited studies done looking at the overall effectiveness of many commercial sunscreen brands, and no restrictions on the ingredients. Which simply means, that Kiwi’s and Aussie’s, more than any other country on the planet, are smothering themselves with an endless list of toxic ingredients with zero awareness of their impact on our skin and bodies.

Here’s what the EWG review of toxic ingredients in your Sunscreen really means?

  • Toxins can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream
  • Release free radicals in sunlight
  • Act like estrogen
  • Disrupt hormones
  • Cause allergic reactions
  • Cause skin irritation
  • Have no rigorous safety standards

Toxic chemicals in sunscreen

Here is a list of the most toxic ingredients and why you don’t want to put them on your skin, let alone your little ones…

  • Oxybenzone
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Para amino benzoic acid
  • Octyl salicyclate
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Phenylbenzimidazole
  • Homosalate
  • Menthyl anthranilate
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate (Octy-Methoxycinnamate)
  • Parabens

** We have a full glossary of these ingredients at the end of this blog for you to read. **

But, let’s break down just a few critical ones for you…

Oxybenzone is the most common ingredient found in sunscreens.  Scientists recommend not using sunscreens containing oxybenzone on children because of this hormone disruption.

But, finding this one ingredient often requires some detective work, as it’s a sneaky devil and can be hidden under any of following alias’s.


Now, if that lengthy alias wrap sheet wasn’t enough to get your attention, then maybe this will.

The tricky business of Benzophenones

It’s part of the Benzophenones family that were declared the Contact Allergen of the Year for 2014 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS).   So, if you have itchy, sensitive skin, products containing benzophenone or benzophenone derivatives may cause redness, swelling, itching and fluid-filled blisters. Here’s what the Dermnet New Zealand have to say about these irritants and their impact on the skin.

Oxybenzone, Dioxybenzone, all part of the Benzophenones family are widely used in many everyday sunscreens, mainly because of its ability to penetrate the skin more easily, and absorb UVB and short UVA rays. Its chemical nature makes it a great ingredient for maintaining the qualities of other ingredients in a formulation and therefore you will find it used in many personal care products to maintain stability of its surrounding chemicals.

But the big bad news is that many top scientists believe Oxybenzone can cause cancer, in particular skin cancer. Yes, you read that right! Crazy, Yet, it is the number one ingredient found most commonly in sunscreen. Go figure?

The clear link between these ingredients and skin allergies

The independent industry watchdog the ‘Environmental Working Group’ (EWG) along with many leading toxicologists believe there is a clear link between oxybenzone (and others in the benzohenones family) creating hormone disruption and skin allergies. Others go further stating that oxybenzone potentially causes cell damage as a photo-carcinogen and that this cell damage may lead to skin cancer.

The ‘Center for Disease Control and Prevention’ in the USA concluded a study in 2008, where 96.8% of urine samples of sunscreen users that had been collected and examined were shown to contain oxybenzone. Basically this means that if you have used sunscreen with this ingredient, or the many other names it goes by that your body will store it in fatty tissues for long periods before you finally pass it in your urine.  Not cool!

Yet even with a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting the harmful effects of this ingredient, both the American Academy of Dermatology and the FDA say Oxybenzone is safe for use in concentrations of 6% or less in over the counter sunscreens. The EU Cosmetic Directive, which allows 10%, and this ingredient, is also deemed safe in New Zealand and Australia – Really?  Sweden, however, has completely banned the use of this ingredient. I’m with the Swedes; it’s not something I want to put on my family’s face.

The one ingredient named the allergen of the year

Methylisothiazolinone or MI is of particular concern for causing an increasing number of cases of allergic contact dermatitis. It is a preservative used since early 2000’s that’s lurking in your sunscreen (disposable baby wipes, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, moisturisers, and deodorants).

The American Contact Dermatitis Society named MI its “allergen of the year” in 2013. This year, Environmental Working Group has found MI listed on the labels of 66 sunscreens and 39 SPF-rated daily moisturizers. MI is used alone or in mixtures with a related chemical preservative called Methylchloroisothiazolinone, or MCI.

That fact that MI has become relatively common in sunscreen is a matter of concern because sunscreen users are likely to be exposed to significant concentrations of this chemical. The products that contain MI are intended to be applied to large portions of the body and to be reapplied often.

In March 2015, the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded that no concentration of MI could be considered safe in leave-on cosmetic products (EU SCCS 2014).   Enough said!

Keep in mind there are more ingredients that are in sunscreens and sunblocks, these are just a start!  We’ve made a list of them at the end of this article if you’re interested to know more about them.

What can you do? Read the labels & banish toxic Sunscreens for good

Firstly, there are two basic types of sunscreens you need to consider:

  • non-mineral – ones which absorb and deflect (or reflect) the sun’s rays via a chemical reaction
  • mineral – one’s that block harmful sun rays— using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which create a physical barrier against the sun’s rays.

And there are some sunscreens, which are a combination of both non-mineral and mineral.

Non-mineral sunscreens

Non-mineral sunscreens penetrate the skin, are potentially disruptive to hormones, are allergenic, can release free radicals when they break down. Oxybenzone is the most common ingredient found in these sunscreens,, However, remember to look for the other ingredients in your sunscreen and beauty products, using our detailed glossary below.

Mineral sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens are ones containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The classic white strips we associate with our lifesavers and cricketers in our part of the world.  These are the only physical sunscreens that actually do not breakdown in sunlight, are not usually absorbed (so do not disrupt the body’s hormones). In addition, they are not allergenic and are more effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays of the sun.

These sunscreens are a good choice for children and according to EWG have the best safety profiles.

However, be mindful, that the market has been flooded in recent years with a lot of nano-zinc oxide sunscreens. We are only now just understanding that these nanomaterials can enter your bloodstream, plus like micro beads, they are harming our marine life and entering the food chain.

The Therapeutic Goods Association of Australia (TGA) has this policy on nanoparticle ingredients.  “The labeling of therapeutic sunscreens is not required to declare the particle sizes of ingredients. Nanoparticulate titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are commonly used in sunscreens. The labels of therapeutic sunscreens are not required to declare the particle sizes of ingredients” (see note 6).


Picture:  The Cathedral Cove, The Coromandel, New Zealand  @iamtheflyingkiwi

Above all, look at your ingredients list and ditch anything with nano-zinc in it, and mirco beads (shower gels, toothpaste, facial scrubs) while you’re at it.  As a result, you are helping save yourself and our beautiful oceans and sea life.

Top tips for summer time protection

Here are the tips we use to protect ourselves and our little one’s naturally from the sun:

  • We all know this one but look for a shady spot as often as you can, particularly on the beach. (Maybe even carry an umbrella with you.)
  • Wear loose fitting long-sleeved natural clothes like cotton or bamboo, which will allow the skin to breathe and not irritate the skin.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of foods with high antioxidants content to help protect your skin this summer.
  • Use a natural PABA free sunscreen. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient when choosing a sunscreen. Our friends over at Nourished Life have put together a selection of the best natural, organic sunscreens on the market. Which will help you decide what type of sun protection will best suit your family.
  • If your child has sensitive skin, use a sunscreen that is PABA-free, fragrance free, and hypoallergenic. A physical sunscreen, with either Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide, is a good choice, instead of a sunscreen with chemical ingredients.
  • If you do get sunburnt, use a good after sun cream. Our Body Lotion  and Hand Cream is also a good options for after the sun.

Moral of the Story?

There is legitimate concern regarding sunscreens causing irritation for children & adults who suffer from itchy, sensitive skin. Avoid the ingredients listed in this article, and read our detailed glossary (below) of all the toxic ingredients to avoid. It’s not worth the risk, the sun is harmful enough, the last thing you need is nasty toxins playing havoc with your skin and body.

Most importantly, ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ and enjoy Summer. :-)

** And a little update from us at Manuka Biotic HQ – we are busy working on a toxic free sunscreen made using natural ingredients. It is a tough job trying to make a decent sunscreen that works and meets our standards. But we will keep at it. **

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Oxybenzone- & Dioxbenzone – Part of the Benzophenones family, which were declared the Contact Allergen of the Year for 2014 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS). Often benzophenones are used in combination with other chemical absorbing sunscreens to augment and stabilize the final product. Below is the list of the four main benzophenone derivatives that have been used widely in sunscreens and cosmetics

  • 1. oxybenzone: Benzophenone 3 (2-hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl)
  • 2. Benzophenone 4 (2-hydroxy-4-methoxy benzophenone-5-sulfonic acid: sulisobenzone)
  • 3. dioxybenzone: Benzophenone 8 (2,2-dihydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone)
  • 4. Benzophenone 102 (hydroxy-4-methoxy-4-methylbenzophenone: mexenone)


Oxybenzone is a known penetration enhancer, meaning it helps other ingredients to penetrate the skin more easily. Independent, verified studies have shown it to penetrate the skin and cause photo-sensitivity. Photo-sensitivity is sometimes known as sun allergy resulting in easier sun burning or extreme reactions of the skin when exposed to sunlight.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) identified nearly 600 sunscreens sold in the U.S. that contain oxybenzone, including products by Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, and Banana Boat (see the full list of 588 sunscreens here ) as well as 172 facial moisturisers , 111 lip balms , and 81 different types of lipstick .   The EWG say that Oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones

Benzophenone (or Benzophenone-1, -2, -3)

These chemicals are of more concern because they have shown estrogenic activity in lab tests. Margret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich’s Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology (note 3) says they have been shown to disrupt hormones, affecting the development of the brain (particularly the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal system) and reproductive organs in laboratory rats. The Dermnet of New Zealand has this to say about benzophenone products and the allergies caused by benzophenone or benzophenone derivatives which for some people may cause redness, swelling, itching and fluid-filled blisters.

Methylisothiazolinone, or MI

A preservative used in disposable baby wipes , shampoos, conditioners, body washes, moisturisers, sunscreens and deodorants since early 2000’s, and is causing an increasing number of cases of allergic contact dermatitis. Over the past several years, physicians have reported serious cases of serious skin allergy, most notably in children exposed to MI from baby wipes and other products meant to be left on the skin (Chang 2014).

In a study published in 2014, researchers at Baylor University surveyed the ingredients in 152 children’s body care products labeled “hypoallergenic” and found MI in 30 of them (Schlichte 2014).   In 2015, researchers from 15 clinics in the U.S. and Canada reported an increase in MI allergy in patients. The researchers concluded that they had documented “the beginning of the epidemic of sensitivity to methyliosthiazolinones in North America” (Warshaw 2015).    Here’s what the Occupational Dermatology Research and Education Centre of Australia have to say about MI.

PABA (Para-Aminobenzoic Acid)

Beware of products that contain this ingredient. Forty percent of the population is sensitive to it, experiencing red, itchy skin. It’s rarely used but it’s absolutely worth looking at the ingredients list. Here’s what DermNet New Zealand have to say about its impact on the skin.

Octyl Salicyclate

Is an ingredient that is found in many sunscreens, cosmetic , beauty products. Some people can have an allergy to salicylates.  You can click here to read more by the Dermnet New Zealand.


Is a widely used chemical in sunscreens and skin care products with SPF. Homosalate is a potential endocrine disruptor and studies in cells suggest it may impact hormones. In addition to direct health concerns following homosalate exposure, the chemical may also enhance the absorption of pesticides in the body. – See more at Safe Cosmetics Org

Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid

Is used in sunscreens and other cosmetic and beauty products with a sunscreen or SPF component because of its ability to block UVB rays. Whilst it is deemed as safe, generally considered a safe sunscreen ingredient, the Cosmetic Database rates it as a moderate hazard, citing cancer concerns and cellular level changes.

According to a study done in 2002, Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid “Produces excess reactive oxygen species that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, lead to cell death and may be implicated in cardiovascular disease.” It is also thought to induce DNA strand breaks upon exposure to sunlight. In rare cases, it has caused contact dermatitis and allergic reactions. It can be used in concentrations up to 4% in the United States, and 8% in Europe (

Padimate O & Parsol 1789 (2-ethylhexyl-4-dimethylaminobenzoic acid or Avobenzone)

These two chemicals have the potential to damage DNA when illuminated with sunlight. On the skin’s surface, these chemicals do protect from UV damage; however, once absorbed into the skin, these same chemicals can prove destructive. Research by Dr. Knowland’s indicates that Padimate-O and Parsol “are excited by the UV energy which they absorb and become reactive, acquiring the potential to attack cellular components, including DNA.”

Researchers caution “DNA damage inflicted by an excited sunscreen is much less capable of being repaired by naturally occurring repair mechanisms than the DNA damage inflicted by UV alone.”  This is what the EWG have to say about Avobenzone .

Menthyl anthranilate

Also known as meradimate, this is a synthetic sunscreen active is a partially effective UVA sunscreen, but because it only protects up to 336 nanometers, it does not make the grade for providing sufficient UVA protection on its own. (Source: The Encyclopedia of Ultraviolet Filters, Allured, 2007, pages 148-149)


Is a chemical compound often used as an additive in sun screen, and is thought to have skin moisturising effects because of its emollient properties. Octocrylene is also often combined with avobenzone, another common sunscreen ingredient. Octocrylene is one of those ingredients that can be absorbed into the skin and some studies have shown that it may promote a generation of potentially harmful free radicals when exposed to light. Since free radicals can damage DNA, there is concern that this ingredient might have contributed to an increased incidence of melanoma in sunscreen-users compared to non-users.

Researchers say further studies are warranted to determine the true health impact of this ingredient. (References:; ScienceDirect).

Octinoxate (Octy-Methoxycinnamate)

Has been implicated by Dr. Margret Schlumpf University of Zurich’s Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology3 showing instances od developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies, and immunotoxicity. It also enhances skin absorption, which isn’t so great given this chemical has ability disrupt both the endocrine and cellular level of the skin.

Parabens (butyl-, ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-)

Are the most common preservatives in use in sunscreen and skincare products today. They are the alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid and were first used in the 1920s as antibacterial and antifungal agents, however, not long after they were being incorporated as preservatives for foods, drugs, and the cosmetics industry. There has been significant scrutiny of Parabens, questioning their role as skin allergens, but also implicating them as potential endocrine disruptors, most notably reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Possible health risks could include chronic diseases, cancers, developmental disorders, and fertility problems as outlined in this study (see note 1). Studies into PEGs show it is a recognised toxin that can cause an immediate or delayed allergic eczema reaction in some people (see note 2).


Part of the Cinnamates family, these ingredients are chemically related to cinnamon oil and other cinnamon-related compounds that are used widely as flavourings and fragrances in many toiletries and cosmetics. The added benefit of cinnamates is that it is a potent UVB absorber and therefore used in sunscreen agents and colour cosmetics with sun protection factor qualities.   Other names are: 2 ethoxyethyl p-methoxy cinnamate, Cinoxate, Isobutyl salicyl cinnamate, Octyl methoxycinnamate,Octinoxate, Octocrylene (2-ethylhexyl-2-ciano-3, 3-diphenyl acrylate).   People with allergies to related cinnamon-type compounds should avoid sunscreens containing cinnamates, as advised by Dermnet New Zealand.


  1. International Journal of Toxicology,“Final amended report on the safety assessment of Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, and Benzylparaben as used in cosmetic products.” 2008;27 Suppl 4:1-82. doi:10.1080/10915810802548359
  1. Fisher AA, “Skin reactions to propylene glycol”, Contact Dermatitis. 1975;1(2):112-6.
  1. Schlumpf , Margaret; Beata Cotton, Marianne Conscience, Vreni Haller, Beate Steinmann, Walter Lichtensteiger. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 109 (March 2001) pp 239-244
  2. Knowland J, McKenzie EA, McHugh PJ, Cridland NA. “Sunlight-induced mutagenicity of a common sunscreen ingredient.” Department of Biochemistry, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QU, UK
  1. Environmental Working Group Skin Deep® Cosmetic Database
  2. page 16 of 43