all the UV filters in sunscreen

Do you know what’s in your sunscreen?

You’d better. Cos not all sunscreens give you adequate sun protection. Some are lazy and only keep you safe from UVB rays. They can get away with this because SPF only refers to the level of protection from UVB rays. Crazy, I know!

If you can’t read those undecipherable labels, how can you tell if your sunscreen is doing its duty or slacking on the job?

Before you panic at the thought of going anywhere near those labels, worry not. I’ve put together this short guide with the most common active ingredients (the UV filters) found in sunscreens and the kind of protection they give you.

Before you pick up your next bottle of sunscreen, make sure it has at least one UVA filter in it:


Usually listed as Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane on the label (just to make your life more complicated), it protects against the entire UVA range. It degrades (stops working) quickly when exposed to light, so use it with ingredients that can help it last longer, such as Octocrylene, Mexoryl, or Tinosorb.

Related: Is Avobenzone Dangerous?


A group of sunscreen ingredients that include Oxybenzone, Methanone, Benzophenone-3 and anything else that ends in “benzone” or “benzophenone”. They protect from all UVB and some UVA rays but can irritate sensitive skin.

Related: Is Oxybenzone The Worst UV Filter Ever?

How effective is your sunscreen? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the โ€œSunscreen Auditโ€ Worksheet and find out if your sunscreen is really up to the job:


A sunscreen agent that offers full UVB and little UVA protection.


A.k,a. Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid, it provides full UVB and minimal UVA protection. It’s water-soluble and feels very light on the skin.

Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Ensulizole In Sunscreens


It provides full UVB  and minimal UVA protection. It can be used only in concentrations up to 10%.

Menthyl Anthranilate

A.k.a. Meradimate, it protects from some, but not all UVA rays. It’s rarely used in the USA and banned in Europe and Japan.

la roche posay anthelios dermo-kids lotion spf 50+

Mexoryl SX

A.k.a. Ecamsule and terephthalylidine dicamphor sulfonic acid (that’s usually how it disguises itself on the label), it’s developed and patented by L’Oreal. It protects against UVA rays and degrades more slowly when exposed to sunlight than other ingredients like Avobenzone.

Related: What Are The Best Sunscreens With Mexoryl?

Mexoryl XL

A.k.a. Drometrizole Trisiloxane, it’s developed and patented by L’Oreal too. It protects against UVB rays. It’s oil soluble so great for outdoors activities.


A.k.a. Octyl Methoxycinnamate, it protects from UVB rays. It’s also soluble so great for outdoor activities. Some studies show it can generate free radicals so don’t forget to pile up your antioxidant serum beforehand.

Related: Is Octinoxate In Sunscreens Safe?

ultrasun family spf 30 review


A.k.a. octyl salicylate and ethylhexyl salicylate, it protects only from UVB rays.

Related: The Complete Guide To Octisalate In Sunscreen


A weak UVB filter. It helps to stabilize Avobenzone but can cause irritations.

Related: The Complete Guide To Octocrylene In Sunscreen


Tinosorb S (bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine) and Tinosorb M (methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol) offer protection from all UVA and some UVB rays. Tinosorb S is water soluble while Tinosorb M is oil soluble. Both are photostable and can help other UV filters, such as Avobenzone, last longer, too.

Related: What Are The Best Sunscreen Ingredients?

paula's choice super-light daily wrinkle defense spf 30 review

Titanium Dioxide

A white mineral that protects against the entire UVB range but only half of the UVA range. It doesn’t irritate skin but can leave a white cast.

Related: More Than A Sunscreen: The Complete Guide To Titanium Dioxide In Skincare

Trolamine Salicylate

A UVB filter.

Zinc Oxide

A white mineral that protects from the entire UV range (finally!). It’s very gentle and non-irritating, but leaves a white cast on the skin.

In case you’re wondering, all my fave sunscreens use zinc oxide. It provides broad spectrum protection without irritating my skin, saving me the headache of having to decipher the whole ingredient list. You can find my fave zinc oxide sunscreens here.

Related: Is Zinc Oxide The Best UV Filter Ever?

How does your sunscreen fare? Let me know in the comments if it passed the test.