Are chemical sunscreens safe to use? I've read they are toxic so I'm considering switching to organic sunscreen."

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. To minimise the risk of developing skin cancer, multiple forms of sun protection – including but not limited to the use of sunscreen – should be used when UV levels are 3 or above. In Australia, many people need to rely on sunscreen every day to protect exposed areas of skin, sometimes over large areas of their body, so it is vital that all sunscreens are safe, effective and good quality. 

However, a survey of 1000 Australians from 18 to over 76 years old, commissioned by Cancer Council, found that nearly half of respondents believed that sunscreen contained chemicals that were bad for you and could even cause cancer. Some manufacturers even advertise that their sunscreen products do not contain cancer-causing (carcinogens) chemicals found in other sunscreens.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates sunscreens in Australia, ensuring that only approved ingredients, including chemicals, which have been assessed for quality and safety, are used in each product. Given there have been many rigorous scientific reviews, there is now very strong evidence that the list of commonly used active ingredients used in sunscreen do not pose a concern for human health. 

Some sunscreens may market themselves as organic or natural – these products often use physical blockers, such as zinc, to help protect against UV. Cancer Council recommends using an SPF30 or higher sunscreen that is broad spectrum, water resistant and TGA approved. We also recommend that you check the expiry date, as products that are past their expiry date, while not harmful, will not give you proper protection against UV radiation.

As long as your sunscreen meets these requirements, what brand or ingredients you choose is up to you - it is important you find one you like as you will then be more likely to use it and reapply. To check if something is TGA approved, look for the reference to say that the product compiles with AS/NZS 2604:2012. Be wary of products that aren’t TGA approved, aren’t actually a sunscreen or are homemade as these products won’t have been properly tested for effectiveness and may not provide proper sun protection. 

Sunscreen should not be used as the only line of defence against the sun, be sure to protect yourself in five ways to minimise the risk of skin cancer – slip on sun protective clothing, slop on SPF30 or higher sunscreen, slap on a broad brim hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses when the UV is 3 or above. Those who are worried about sunscreens might choose to primarily rely on other forms of sun protection, like protective clothing, hat and shade.