Test: These chemicals are used in sunscreen

10. jun 2020

Sunscreen is important as sun protection. However, some may contain unwanted chemicals which e.g. are harmful to the environment or suspected of being endocrine disrupting.

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Test of chemicals in sunscreens
Photo: The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

Sunscreen is important – choose one with unwanted chemicals

Sunscreen is an important supplement to shadow and clothing when you need to protect yourself against the rays of the sun.

The test of selected sunscreens and sun sprays with SPF 30 shows a market with many alternatives if you wish to choose one without unwanted chemicals.

In our test, 15 products get the best chemical rating (A). See all the chemical ratings of the sun screens at the bottom of this page.

See the test with product pictures (In Danish)

Some UV-filters are suspected of being endocrine disrupting

In the test, 15 sun screens get the lowest rating (C). This is mainly due to their contents of UV-filters or other substances suspected of being endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

An increasing number of sun screens contain potential endocrine disrupting substances in this test compared to earlier. This is partially due to the fact that a number of new substances have been taking into consideration in the present evaluation.

These are substances listed on the EU Commissions priority list of potential EDCs in cosmetics and personal care products. Further, there are new substances from the EDC list issued in June 2020 by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency in colaboration with authorities from 4 other member states.

For further details on the substances found in the suncreams see below under 'what we found'.

Cosmetics: Updated evaluations of endocrine disruptors

The cocktail effect - not the single sun screen - is problematic

Suspected EDCs in suncreams may be problematic due to the so-called cocktail effect. The cocktail effect refers to the combined effect of the exposure to many problematic substances from multiple sources in your daily life. In combination they can constitute a health risk even if each single exposure in itself does not.

Sunscreen is very important to use as sun protection, no matter the content. However, it is generally a good idea to reduce your combined exposure to EDCs wherever you can.

See all tests from the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

How we tested

The 36 sunlotions and sunsprays in the test all have factor 30. They were purchased in the spring of 2020. After the purchase, product names and ingredient lists were sent to manufacturers to check that the products were not outdated and that ingredient lists were correct.

The test is a declaration test, which means that it is a review of the ingredients declared on the products. The products have not been analysed in a chemical laboratory or tested for how well they protect against the radiation from the sun.

The sunscreens' ingredients are assessed in relation to, for example, whether they are suspected of being endocrine disrupting, allergenic or problematic to the environment.

In the Kemiluppen app (an app from The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals) you will find reviews of many more sunscreens - including sunscreen with other sun factors, children sunscreens, facial sunscreen and more. The evaluation of the sunscreens in this test is identical to the evaluation in Kemiluppen.

How we conduct tests in The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

What we found

The final assessments of the 36 suncreams are distributed as follows:

  • 15 sunscreens get the best chemical rating (A). They are good choices when it comes to content.
  • 5 sunscreens get medium chemical rating (B). It is because of content of perfume or certain substances that can be problematic to the environment.
  • 16 sunscreens get the lowest chemical rating (C). They contain one or more substances suspected of being endocrine disruptors or substances that are more problematic to the environment.

No illegal ingredients were found in the test.

These unwanted substances were found in the sunscreens

The following unwanted substances were found in the products:

Suspected endocrine disruptors:

  • Octocrylene, an UV-filter, found in 11 sunscreens.
  • Ethylhexyl salicylate, an UV-filter, found in 8 sunscreens.
  • Benzyl salicylate, a perfuming substance, found in 6 sunscreens.
  • Homosalate, an UV-filter, found in 6 sunscreens.
  • Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, an UV-filter, found in 4 sunscreens. The substance is also problematic for the environment.
  • Benzophenone-3, an UV-filter, found in 2 sunscreens. The substance is also problematic for the environment.
  • Butylphenyl methylpropional, a perfuming substance, found in 2 sunscreens
  • Cyclopentasiloxane, a skin conditioner, found in 1 sunscreen.. It is also harmful to the environment as it accumulate in nature.
  • BHT, an antioxidant, found in 1 sunscreen.
  • Salicylic acid, a skin conditioner, found in 1 sunscreen. Also known as potential harmful to the reproduction.
  • Sodium salicylate, a skin conditioner, found in 1 sunscreen.
  • Isoamyl β-methoxycinnamate, an UV-filter, found in 1 sunscreen

Substances with other effects:

  • Methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol, an UV-filter, that is problematic for the environment because of its PBT properties. It was found in 3 sunscreens.

New substances on the list of suspected endocrine disruptors

Some of the unwanted substances in the suncreams have been evaluated as potential endocrine disrupting chemicals by the Danish Consumer Council Think Chemicals for quite some time. Others have very recently been added to the list of endocrine disrupting substances.

The “new” substances are either listed on the EU priority list of potentially endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and personal care products or on the 5 EU memberstate-authorities list of endocrine disruptors. The latter list is prepared by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency in collaboration with authorities in France, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands.

A total of 28 substances are on the EU priority list of potential endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and personal care products from 2019. The member state-authority list of suspected endocrine disruptors counts about 100 substances. However, many of these are not relevant to cosmetics and care products.

The substances are listed because they are either already considered endocrine disruptors in the EU or because they are being investigated based on a concern for endocrine disrupting effects.

Many of the substances on the 2 lists already consider the Consumer Council Think Chemistry as suspected endocrine disruptors. This applies, for example, to ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone-3, propylparaben, triclosan, resorcinol and BHT. They have previously been assessed as potential endocrine disrupting chemicals by other bodies.

However, the lists also include substances that the Danish Consumer Council Think Chemicals have not previously assessed as suspected endocrine disruptors.

This applies to the following substances found in the sunprotection products:

  • Homosalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Ethylhexyl salicylate
  • Isoamyl methoxicinnamate
  • Benzyl salicylate

For future assessments, products with these substances will get the lowest chemical rating (C).

See the EU Commission's priority list of potential endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and personal care products

See the Danish Environmental Protection Agency's press release on the new list of endocrine disruptors

See the authorities website that list endocrine disruptors