What Are The Best Sunscreen Ingredients?

by Gio
best sunscreen ingredients

Sunscreen gave you a bad rash?

Still got a sunburn after a few hours in the sun?

So many sunscreens aren’t up to the job. Their UV filters are either irritating as hell or are so unreliable, they stop working within a couple of hours.

But how can you tell which ones you can trust? Don’t worry, I’ve done the work for you. Below, you can find the best sunscreen ingredients. Look out for them on the label:

Best Sunscreen Ingredient #1: Zinc Oxide

What it is: a white mineral. Friends call it ZnO.

What it does: it protects, on its own, from the entire UV range. It works by absorbing and transforming most UV rays into a less damaging form of energy (heat) and scattering away the rest.

Side effects: it’s thick and can leave a white cast behind.

Where to find it:

  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36.00):available at Sephora
  • EltaMD UV Pure BroadSpectrum SPF 47 ($24.50): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta

Related: Why Zinc Oxide Is The Best Sunscreen Ingredient Ever

Best Sunscreen Ingredient #2: Mexoryl

What it is: a chemical sunscreen ingredient developed and patented by L’Oreal. It’s also called Ecamsule.

What it does: it protects from all UVA and some UVB rays  It’s very photostable, so it doesn’t degrade (and lose effectiveness) too quickly when exposed to sunlight.

Side effects: irritations are rare.

Where to find it:

  • Biotherm Creme Solaire Anti-Age SPF 30 (€24,70): available at Sephora France
  • La Roche Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream With Sunscreens ($33.99):available at Dermstore and Ulta
  • La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Ultra Light Fluid SPF50+ (£11.60): available at Feel Unique and Look Fantastic

Related: What Are The Best Sunscreens With Mexoryl?

Best Sunscreen Ingredient #3 & #4: Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M

What they are: two chemical sunscreens widely available in Europe and Asia, but not yet approved for use in the US. Tinosorb S is also called bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine and Tinosorb M hides under the name methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol.

What they do: they protect from all UVA and some UVB rays. Both are photostable and help prevent other UV filters, like Avobenzone, from degrading and losing their effectiveness too soon.

Side effects: irritations are rare.

Where to find it:

Best Sunscreen Ingredient #5: Titanium Dioxide

What it is: a white mineral.

What it does: it protects from all UVB and some UVA rays. Like zinc oxide, it absorbs and transforms most UV rays into a less damaging form of energy and scatters the rest away.

Side effects: it can leave a white cast behind.

Where to find it:

How effective is your sunscreen? Subscribe to my newsletter below and download the “Sunscreen Audit” to find out:

The Bottom Line

Plenty of UV filters are unreliable. The four above are the best sunscreen ingredients to keep you safe both from sun and irritations.

What are the best sunscreen ingredients you prefer to use and why? Let me know your faves in the comments below.



Vonvon July 25, 2011 - 4:31 pm

I hope this is not too big a request, but do you mind listing some examples of products in the market for each of the ingredient?

Thank you, gio. 🙂

beautifulwithbrains July 25, 2011 - 5:49 pm

Vonvon, that’s no trouble at all. I will update the post with a few examples. 🙂

Vonvon July 26, 2011 - 11:39 pm

Thanks for the updates, gio! 🙂

beautifulwithbrains July 27, 2011 - 6:21 am

you’re welcome. 🙂

Trisha July 25, 2011 - 6:47 pm

Thanks, Gio! This was really informative.

beautifulwithbrains July 26, 2011 - 6:14 am

Trisha, you’re welcome and thanks. I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂

Makeup Morsels July 26, 2011 - 1:19 am

You write some of the most informative posts around! I didn’t know about Tinsorb S and Tinsorb M, thanks for the ingredient description 🙂

beautifulwithbrains July 26, 2011 - 6:19 am

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. 🙂

Wendles July 26, 2011 - 3:09 am

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 July 26, 2011 - 6:26 am

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. 🙂

Amanda July 28, 2011 - 3:22 pm

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.

beautifulwithbrains July 28, 2011 - 6:50 pm

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.

Ashley July 29, 2011 - 5:53 am

This post is very helpful, thank you!
I’m going back and forth between physical and chemical sunscreens right now and I don’t like either. I wish the sun were as friendly as it looks in children books 😛

beautifulwithbrains July 29, 2011 - 8:02 am

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.

cute August 13, 2011 - 3:41 pm

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 August 13, 2011 - 6:18 pm

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.

cute August 13, 2011 - 9:32 pm

u r very responsive, thanks for reply ur very nice

beautifulwithbrains August 14, 2011 - 5:49 am

Cute, you’re welcome. I’m always glad to help. 🙂

cute August 13, 2011 - 9:46 pm

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 August 14, 2011 - 5:53 am

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?

cute August 14, 2011 - 5:39 pm

That was the complete list of ingredients that i asked b4, So iz dat good?

beautifulwithbrains August 14, 2011 - 6:12 pm

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. 🙁

cute August 14, 2011 - 10:38 pm

So plz plz suggest me any good sun screen?

beautifulwithbrains August 15, 2011 - 6:56 am

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 August 14, 2011 - 11:07 pm

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 August 15, 2011 - 6:53 am

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

cute August 15, 2011 - 4:54 pm

PLz suggest me sunsceen keeping in mind hat my skin is acne prone.

beautifulwithbrains August 15, 2011 - 6:05 pm

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.

cute August 15, 2011 - 5:01 pm

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 August 15, 2011 - 6:11 pm

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… 🙁

cute August 16, 2011 - 2:03 am

yep, this sunscreen says that it has natural ingredients and that is the complete list ov em..

beautifulwithbrains August 16, 2011 - 2:14 pm

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..

cute August 16, 2011 - 9:19 pm

Brand name Cosmeceutique.

beautifulwithbrains August 17, 2011 - 12:18 pm

Cute, thanks. I didn’t know that brand. I have checked out the sunscreen page and I can’t see how they have determined that it provides SPF50… unless the product contains more ingredients than those listed on the website..

cute August 17, 2011 - 2:05 pm

Thanx Giorgia for giving tym n helping me. I lyk u, u r so helping n seems 2 b a nyc person..

beautifulwithbrains August 17, 2011 - 3:58 pm

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

cute August 18, 2011 - 8:52 pm

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 August 19, 2011 - 6:34 am

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.

cute August 18, 2011 - 8:54 pm

What is Eucerit and its benefits?

beautifulwithbrains August 19, 2011 - 6:28 am

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.

cute August 19, 2011 - 10:21 pm

No Eucerit is an ingredient in moisturizer its other name is Lanolin Alcohol.

beautifulwithbrains August 20, 2011 - 6:33 am

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.

cute August 19, 2011 - 11:48 pm

suggest a good moisturizer for oily skin

beautifulwithbrains August 20, 2011 - 6:34 am

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

cute September 2, 2011 - 1:13 pm

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 September 2, 2011 - 6:26 pm

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 September 3, 2011 - 7:04 am

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 September 4, 2011 - 8:34 pm

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.

cute September 3, 2011 - 7:38 am

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 September 4, 2011 - 8:38 pm

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.

Müge ASN May 4, 2012 - 8:14 am

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.

beautifulwithbrains May 4, 2012 - 8:02 pm

Muge ASN, I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing, I’ll look it up.

Muge ASN May 4, 2012 - 8:14 pm

You’re welcome! 🙂

honu66 May 11, 2012 - 2:01 am

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 May 11, 2012 - 6:12 am

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. 🙂

honu66 May 11, 2012 - 4:12 pm

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 May 11, 2012 - 7:56 pm

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.

honu66 May 11, 2012 - 4:17 pm

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! 🙂

beautifulwithbrains May 11, 2012 - 7:16 pm

Honu66, thanks for the explanation!

Nath August 23, 2012 - 5:02 am

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.

beautifulwithbrains August 23, 2012 - 5:45 pm

Nath, thank you for the clarification.

Janessa July 4, 2012 - 12:39 am

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 July 4, 2012 - 6:13 am

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

Somasam July 30, 2013 - 3:34 am

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?

beautifulwithbrains July 30, 2013 - 9:18 pm

Somasam, you can check out the best sunscreens for oily skin in this post: http://beautifulwithbrains.com/2013/05/07/what-are-the-best-sunscreens-for-oily-skin/ 🙂

And yes, you can safely apply sunscreen under makeup.

lili November 10, 2016 - 11:54 pm

hi can u recommend sun screen for melasma ?

Gio November 11, 2016 - 9:49 pm

Lili, sure, what is your skin type?

Dianne July 14, 2019 - 1:42 pm

Good Morning from Texas; It gets extremely hot here and many hours of daylight. I use Chanel SPF 50. I hate the white cast but is it a good sunscreen. I read from one of your post that it is better not to use two sunscreen. If this is a good sunscreen, I will learn to love the sunscreen. Thank You for the superb info in each post.


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