What Are The Best Sunscreen Ingredients?

sunumbra sport spf 40

Wearing sunscreen is important to prevent cancer and premature aging, but how do we know which one to chose to protect our skin from both UVA and UVB rays and avoid a negative reaction? After all, what’s the point of wearing sunscreen if it’s not gonna offer broad spectrum protection, will fade away soon or simply irritate our skin? So, I thought I’d write a post about what I consider to be the best sunscreen ingredients. I hope you’ll find it helpful. :)

Zinc Oxide

Zinc Oxide, also called ZnO, is my favourite sunscreen ingredient because it offers broad spectrum protection on its own without causing problems for the skin. Zinc Oxide is a physical blocker, which means that once applied on the skin, it acts like a shield: when the sun rays hit the skin, they are simply reflected and scattered away from it. But while it is true that Zinc Oxide protects against the entire UV range, it needs to be included in sunscreens in concentrations of at least 16% to be effective. If the amount is lower, then other sunscreen ingredients, such as Titanium Dioxide, should be included in the product too. In addition, it is also considered to be a skin protectant and an anti-irritant. However, because Zinc Oxide is a white powder, it can leave an unattractive white cast on the skin. For sunscreens containing Zinc Oxide you can try those from Badger and Zinka.


Mexoryl SX, also called Ecamsule, is a chemical sunscreen ingredient developed and patented by L’Oreal. It offers complete protection against UVA rays and some against UVB rays too. And because it is photostable (doesn’t degrade and lose effectiveness when exposed to sunlight), there is no need to reapply it often like you would with other chemical sunscreen ingredients such as Avobenzone. It is often combined with Mexoryl XL (also called Drometrizole Trisiloxane, it protects against UVB rays and because it is oil soluble is a great option for extended outdoors activities), Titanium Dioxide, Avobenzone and Zinc Oxide to provide full spectrum protection. Mexoryl can cause irritations, but the risk of that happening is very low. Mexoryl can be found in sunscreens made by L’Oreal and the other brands the company owns such as Kiehl’s and La Roche-Posay.

Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M

Tinosorb S (bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine) and Tinosorb M (methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol) are two chemical sunscreen ingredients that protect against the entire UVA range. In addition, they also offer some protection against UVB rays. Tinosorb S is water soluble while Tinosorb M is oil soluble but both are photostable and can also partly prevent the degradation of other sunscreen ingredients, such as Avobenzone. Skin irritations can occur, but are rare. Widely used in Europe and Australia, for some reason they haven’t been approved by the FDA yet. If you’re looking for a sunscreen with Tinosorb you can try those made by Eucerin (such as Eucerin White Solution with SPF40) and RoC.

Titanium Dioxide

Just like Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide is a physical blocker that reflect UV rays away from the skin so that they can’t damage it. It protects against the entire UVB range but only against half the UVA range so it has to be used in conjunction with other sunscreen ingredients such as Zinc Oxide, Avonenzone or Mexoryl for broad spectrum protection. A highly stable ingredient, it too can leave a whitish cast on the skin (stronger than that left by Zinc Oxide) but it doesn’t irritate skin. Although not as effective as Zinc Oxide, it is still a very valid option, especially for those with sensitive skin. There are lots of sunscreens on the market containing Titanium Dioxide. L’Oreal, Peter Thomas Roth, Neutrogena and Clinique are just a few brands that include this ingredient in their products.

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of active sunscreen ingredients available, but I believe those mentioned here are the best because they offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays (although some of them do need to be used in conjunction with other ingredients for broad spectrum protection), are photostable so don’t lose efficacy overtime when exposed to sunlight and there is a very, very low risk of them irritating skin. I personally prefer to use physical blockers with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide (I don’t care about the white cast since my skin is already very pale anyway) but end up using sunscreens with Titanium Dioxide and Mexoryl most of the time because they are simply more easy to come across in shops here in Italy. But whatever sunscreen you choose, make sure that it contains ingredients that protect both against UVA and UVB rays and that they are present in concentrations high enough to do their job well.

What active sunscreen ingredients do you prefer to use and why?

Like this post? Tell your friends!
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook


    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Makeup Morsels, aww thank you! And you’re welcome. I hope Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M will be approved by the FDA one day as they are good, effective ingredients and I see no reason why they couldn’t be used in sunscreen in the USA too. :)

  1. Wendles says

    Invisible zinc (zinc oxide) is very popular in Australia, I have resisted it for a while because it is a little expensive and was heavily marketed, but lately, I decided I would use it when I run out of mine. It has a good reputation, and this blog has confirmed that too. Looking forwared to trying it out.


    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Wendles, I haven’t used Invisible Zinc sunscreens but looking at the website and the ingredients they seem good and effective products. And they contain the right amount of Zinc Oxide too. :)

  2. says

    I’m looking for something exactly like your post, thanks.

    I prefer zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, because they are thought to be safer than other ingredients. And what I hate most when choosing sunscreen is the whitish cast. I’m using Seba Med. Fortunately, it doesn’t leave as much white cast as other brands do.
    Amanda´s last blog post ..50 Facts About Me & Why Write About It?My Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Amanda, you’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.

      I’m glad you’ve found a good physical blocker that doesn’t live much of a white cast. That’s what prevents a lot of people from using Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide and it’s a shame as they are effective and safe ingredients.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Ashley, I’m glad you found it helpful.

      I wish the sun was safe and friendly too but sadly it isn’t and sunscreen is the only thing we have that offers adequate protection.

  3. cute says

    Your blog iz amazing, Kindly tell me about these ingridients in a sun screen are they good to use or not.
    Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Sillica, Methoxycinnamate, Butylene Glycol, Polyglyceryl-2 Isostearate, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Methyl parabens, Propylparabens, Aloe Leaf Juice, Bisabolol, Fragrance.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, thank you! I hope to see you around often.

      Cyclomethicone and Dimethicone Crosspolymer are silicones. They give products slip and form a protective barrier on the skin that slows down water loss, thus helping to keep skin hydrated. Contrary to popular opinion, they aren’t comedogenic and there is no reason not to use them. Silica is a mineral that has absorbent properties and is also used to thicken the consistency of a product. Butylene Glycol is used to adjust the consistency of a product and give it slip too.

      Polyglyceryl-2 Isostearate is an ingredients that helps to form emulsions. Mica is a mineral that gives shine to a product. Methoxycinnamate is a sunscreen ingredient and so is Titanium Dioxide. The latter is a physical blocker and protects against all UVB and some UVA rays. Aloe Leaf Juice is used to soothe skin while Bisabolol is an anti-irritant. Methyl parabens and Propylparabens are preservatives that help a product last longer. They have recently gained a bad reputation but it is undeserved as there is no proof they are harmful to the skin in the minuscule doses used in beauty products.

      There is nothing bad in this sunscreen and if it works well for you, I don’t see any reason not to use it. Hope this helps.

  4. cute says

    I have one more question Giorgia, You said Zinc Oxide is an important sunscreen ingredient but this product doesn’t have Zinc Oxide? Its means my sunscreen doesn’t provide full spectrum protection

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, not necessarily. Even products without Zinc Oxide can provide broad-spectrum protection if they contain other UVA filters. Is the list of ingredients above full or dos yours contains only Methoxycinnamate and Titanium Dioxide?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, oh, I thought it contained more ingredients! Unfortunately I don’t think it contains enough protection against UVA rays. Titanium Dioxide protects from only some of them and it is at the middle of the ingredient list so I don’t think there is enough of it anyway. :(

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Cute, L’Oreal makes some good sunscreen. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 85 and Marie Veronique sunscreens are good too. Hope this helps.

      • cute says

        oh, one thing more Giorgia apart from above list of ingredients it has 2 more
        Deionized Water and Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate. Now tell me whether it provide ful protection or not?

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Cute, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate is another UVB filter so I’m afraid your sunscreen still lacks adequate protection from UVA rays. :(

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 85 and LaRoche Posay SPF 60 Fluide Extreme are both good option for acne prone skin. Hope this helps.

  5. cute says

    One more sunscreen that im using has these ingredients so they are good or not?
    D.M.Water, aloe barbadensis, tagetes erecta,
    pterocarpus santalinus, coffea arabica, macadamia integrifolia, 2-phenoxy ethanol, stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, glycerine and sodium benzoate.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you sure that that’s the INCI of a sunscreen? It’s just that I don’t see any ingredients that protects against UV rays in that list… :(

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Cute, I know some natural ingredients offer some protection from UV rays but it is by no means broad spectrum. And in any case, I don’t really see any of those in that list. Can I now the brand and name of the sunscreen? Am curious to see what their website says about it..

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, aww thank you, you’re making me blush. And you’re welcome, I’m always glad to help when I can.

  6. cute says

    Giorgia can u tell me about these ingridients in a moisturizer are they good to use or not?
    Aqua, Stearic acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl stearate SE, Triethanolamine, Paraffinum Liquidum, Phenoxyethanol, Carbomer, Oleth-20, Theobroma Cocao, methylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Pafum, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, Coumarin, cl 15985, cl47005.
    N Specially can i use this moisturizer on face without worrying about acne?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, that is a very basic but effective moisturizer. However, if you have acne I wouldn’t use it because of Paraffinum Liquidum. It is a safe and very moisturizing ingredient, but unfortunately it can exacerbate acne in some people.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, you mean Eucerin? Their sunscreens contain Tinosorb, which protect against UVA rays, thus offering broad spectrum protection. I wouldn’t say Tinosorb is better than Mexoryl or Zinc Oxide or instance but they are all valid options that provide adequate protection from UVA rays.

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Cute, oops sorry! It’s just that I mentioned Eucerin in the post and thought it might have been a typo. Lanolin Alcohol is an emollient that is mildly comedogenic. If you have acne, I would avoid it. I hope this helps.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, mmm Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel is a good mositurizer for oily skin. Hope this helps.

  7. cute says

    giorgia, these are sunscreen ingredients:
    Aqua, caprilyic/capric triglyceride, Dicaprylyl ether, octyldoedocanol, Burytene Glycol, Glycerin, 4-methylbenzilydene camphor, Alcohol denat, Glyceryl Stearate SE, cyclomethicone, buytyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, Stearic acid, Tocopheryl Acetate,Cetearyl alcohol,Sodium Carbomer,Trisodium EDTA,Sorbityl Furfuryl,Lanolin Alcohol,phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, EthylParaben, propylparaben,Butylparaben, Parfum.
    I want u 2 tell me about the characteristic of each above ingredient separately.
    plus it is a good or not?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, caprilyic/capric triglyceride, Dicaprylyl ether and octyldoedocanol are emollients and thickeners. Burytene Glycol is a slip agent. Glycerin is a humectant that draws water from the enviroment into the skin. 4-methylbenzilydene camphor is a sunscreen agent but protects only against UVB rays. Alcohol Denat dilutes the consistency to make it more lightweight but irritates and dries skin. Glyceryl Stearate SE is an emulsifier. Cyclomethicone gives slip to a product. Buytyl methoxydibenzoylmethane is another name for Avobenzone which protects against UVA rays.

      Stearic acid is another emollient. Tocopheryl Acetate is an antioxidant and preservative. Cetearyl alcohol is an emollient, emulsifier and thickener. Sodium Carbomer is a stabilizer and film-forming agent.Trisodium EDTA is a watering-soft agent. Sorbityl Furfuryl is an antioxidant. Lanolin Alcohol is an emollient too. The rest of the ingredients are preservatives.

      This sunscreen is ok imo. It provides broad spectrum protection but I think those with physical blockers (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) or meroxyl are more effective and gentler.

      • cute says

        Thanx Giorgia, Once u suggest me Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 85 hope u remember but i saw its ingredients & it doesn’t have neither ZnO nor Titanium dioxide i want some who have both ov these ingredients Suggest me any plzzz

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Cute, I personally prefer physical blockers but I know not everyone loves them (they can leave a white cast on skin). So I like to suggest both physical and chemical option so everyone can decide what best suits their needs. :) Marie Veronique Organics sunscreens contain high concentrations of Zinc Oxide, which provides broad spectrum protection by itself. Paula’s Choice Pure Mineral Sunscreen SPF 15 instead contains both. Hope this helps.

  8. cute says

    i think im gonna be stupid 2 ask that: can i apply 2 sunscreens on my face at same time cuz one have Titanium dioxide that protect from UVB and other has Avobenzone which protects against UVA rays?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Cute, when it comes to sunscreens it’s best not to mix them. I don’t think that would be harmful but using two sunscreens may be too rich for your skin and feel greasy or cause breakouts. In addition, it could be more difficult to spread the products evenly on the skin, especially if the one you apply first (which must be the one with Avobenzone as that, unlike Titanium Dioxide, needs to be in contact with the skin to be effective) has a thick texture.

  9. Müge ASN says

    Actually Tinosorb S is an oil soluble UV- filter. There is a product called “Tinosorb S Aqua” , this is a water soluble ingredient.
    Also Tinosorb M can be added to water phase if 50% suspension of it is used.

  10. honu66 says

    Just discovered this site, which I have found to be very useful and informative. Thank you! Question: when purchasing a sunscreen, they list so many active ingredients at varying % strengths. What is the bottom line? Thank you!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Honu66, thanks. I’m glad you find my blog informative.

      Basically, only zinc oxide and only at high concentrations can protect skin from the entire UV range. Most sunscreen ingredients only provide protection against either UVA or UVB rays so companies have to put several of them in their products to offer broad spectrum protection. :)

  11. honu66 says

    Hello, Thanks for the quick response, but I guess to be clearer in my question:
    What % strength should I be looking for in the active ingredients to know that it is adequate? (for instance, Zinc Oxide 3% claiming spf 50). Advertisements are so deceiving it’s hard to determine what is trustworthy. Thank you. I hope I have made my question clearer. :-)

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Honu66, I see. I know that Zinc Oxide, when used as the only active ingredient, need to be used in concentrations of at least 16% to be effective, but I’m afraid I’m not really sure about the recommended quantities for the other filters. I usually trust cosmetic chemists with having come out with a good formula that offers enough protection and make sure the sunscreen I use contains both UVA and UVB filters so that I get broad spectrum protection. But I will do some research on the topic and report what I find.

  12. honu66 says

    Muge ASN may have got it reversed. Tinosorb S is water soluble and Tinosorb M is oil soluble. Both are considered photostable and can partly prevent the degradation of other active ingredients such as Avobenzone. They are both chemical sunscreens that help against the entire uva range, with some uvb. Hope this helps! :-)

      • Nath says

        Mudge ASN and honu66 are both kind of right.
        Tinosorb S (Bemotrizinol) is, in powder form, oil soluble. Tinosorb S Aqua is a 20% dispersion which is water soluble.
        Tinosorb M (Bisoctrizole) is water soluble.
        All three of these products (Tinosorb S, Tinosorb S Aqua, Tinosorb M) are available from BASF.

  13. Janessa says

    Lancome UV EXPERT GN-SHIELD™ is one of my favorites so far! It applies effortlessly and almost clear. It leaves a very minimal white cast which I like because I know where I put my sunscreen. I’ve found it on SASA.com and it’s a product of France. Too bad the US doesn’t carry such fancy sunscreen.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Janessa, sounds wonderful! I wonder why they don’t sell that in the US, they totally should!

  14. Somasam says

    Hello, please tell me a good sunscreen for oily skin all the sunscreens i have used makes my skin more greasy looking? I have a t zone

    Also is it effectiveand safeto use sunscreen under thn makeup?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge