Common Sunscreen Ingredients To Know

Common Sunscreen Ingredients To Know

Sunscreen is a drug.

Who knew, right?

It’s designated as an over-the-counter (OTC) drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

The FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety and efficacy of active ingredients used in sun care formulations, among other things.

In this article, we will demystify the most commonly used active ingredients in sunscreen and which ones to avoid. 

What Is An Active Ingredient?

First things first - what does it mean to be an active ingredient

An active ingredient is the component or components in sunscreen formulation designed to defend our skin against the harmful side effects of UV exposure. 

They are the essential elements that prevent UV radiation from penetrating our skin. 

In the United States, the FDA regulates sunscreen products due to the potential risks and safety considerations associated with active ingredients.

Key areas of focus include:

  • Safety
  • Efficacy
  • Labeling Requirements
  • Public Health
  • Quality Control

The active ingredients used in sunscreen are evaluated under the FDA's Monograph system, which establishes standards for OTC drugs.

Each must undergo rigorous testing to demonstrate safety and efficacy before they can be approved for use in sunscreen products.

It's important to note each major market has its own governing body responsible for overseeing sun care products sold within its jurisdiction.

Common Active Ingredients to Know

The FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 outlines the complete list of active ingredients available for use in sunscreen within the United States and their approved concentration limits.

The most commonly used include:

  • Avobenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • Zinc Oxide


Avobenzone is an organic clean chemical compound known for its ability to absorb UVA radiation. Learn more about UVA rays here.

By absorbing UVA rays, avobenzone helps prevent damage to our skin's DNA and reduce the risk of premature aging, wrinkles and other UV-related skin conditions.

Avobenzone is approved up to a 3% concentration limit.


Homosalate is an organic clean chemical compound known for its ability to absorb UVB radiation. Learn more about UVB rays here.

It works by forming a protective barrier on the skin's surface, where it absorbs UVB rays and converts them into less harmful energy, such as heat.

In combination with avobenzone and other potential active ingredients, homosalate helps to provide broad spectrum protection.

Homosalate is approved up to a 15% concentration limit.


Octisalate is another organic clean chemical compound known for its ability to absorb UVB radiation. 

In addition, it’s used as a stabilizer for avobenzone and homosalate allowing for longer lasting UV protection.

Octisalate is approved up to a 5% concentration limit.


Octocrylene is an organic clean chemical compound that functions as both a UVA and UVB filter, absorbing a broad spectrum of UV radiation. 

It's used to enhance overall sun protection when paired with avobenzone and homosalate.

By stabilizing other active ingredients, octocrylene helps to prolong the effectiveness of sunscreen products and maintain its protective properties over time.

Octocrylene is approved up to a 10% concentration limit.

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide is a mineral compound that sits on top of our skin to reflect UVA and UVB radiation. 

It creates a physical barrier between the sun’s rays and our skin to protect against the harmful side effects of prolonged exposure. 

Titanium dioxide is widely used and effective, however, it can leave a noticeable white cast on our skin. 

This whitening effect may be more pronounced on individuals with darker skin tones, leading to a less cosmetically appealing appearance.

Titanium dioxide is approved up to a 25% concentration limit.

Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is another mineral compound that sits on top of our skin reflecting both UVA and UVB rays.

Similar to titanium dioxide it too acts as a physical barrier to protect our skin. However, zinc oxide offers slightly broader protection across the UV spectrum compared to titanium dioxide.

A potential drawback to zinc oxide as an active ingredient is its texture and feel on your skin.

It may be less appealing to some athletes due to its thicker and heavier application.

Additionally, similar to titanium dioxide, it can leave a noticeable white cast on our skin.

Zinc oxide is approved up to a 25% concentration limit.

For golf athletes trying to optimize both comfort and protection, we believe clean chemical formulations offer the perfect balance.

Active Ingredients to Avoid

Many of the big box companies and brands have been known to use less safe - albeit FDA approved - active ingredients.

When choosing your sunscreen, we would avoid the following:


Oxybenzone is an organic chemical compound that absorbs both UVA and UVB radiation. 

However, recent research has raised concerns about its safety profile and health risks. 

Laboratory studies have shown absorption of oxybenzone can lead to hormone disruption. It can mimic the effects of estrogen and interfere with androgen hormones in the body.

Continued use has shown it can even be detected in blood and urine samples.

For those with sensitive skin, oxybenzone may also trigger photoallergic reactions, skin redness or rash.

Despite the above concerns, it is currently still approved by the FDA up to a 6% concentration limit.


Octinoxate is an organic chemical compound that absorbs UVB radiation. It has been used as a filler with other active ingredients to provide broader sun protection.

Regardless of its UVB protection, it's been known for hormone-mimicking effects and its potential to produce photoallergic reactions similar to oxybenzone.

Additionally, there are environmental concerns. Studies have suggested octinoxate may pose risks to marine life, including coral reefs.

Octinoxate is currently still approved up to a 7.5% concentration limit.

In 2018, Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens containing both oxybenzone and octinoxate due to their environmental and safety concerns. 

It's currently the only state to have done so - we’ve followed suit with our products.

Ensulizole (more common in Europe)

Ensulizole is an organic chemical compound used as an active ingredient in sunscreen products which functions as a UVB protector.

The main safety concern is that it may produce free radicals when exposed to sunlight, potentially leading to oxidative stress and cellular damage in the skin. 

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can react with other molecules in the body, causing damage to cells, proteins and DNA. 

This oxidative damage is associated with various health issues, including premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Ensulizole is currently approved up to a 4% concentration limit in the United States.

We do not use any of the above active ingredients in our product formulations due to environmental and health safety concerns. 

A Quick Note On Benzene

Benzene is a potential cancer causing chemical. 

The good news is it's not an active ingredient in sunscreen.

However, benzene contamination within sunscreen can form as a byproduct of the manufacturing process or chemical reaction between other ingredients - particularly in aerosol and spray sunscreens.

Many large brands have had to issue product recalls after routine testing discovered trace elements of the potential cancer causing chemical.

Always check for recalls before choosing your sun care products.

And that's a wrap!

PURE SPF 50 uses the highest quality clean active ingredients.

It has tons of benefits, including:

  • Proven, safe and effective UV blockers to keep your skin protected
  • Easy application with zero white cast
  • Eliminating clogged pores
  • Sweat and Water Resistance
If you’re ready to evolve with the game, be sure to check out our signature invisible sunscreen.