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Elta MD Sunscreen Review: Why The Products May Be Unsafe


Article edited for scientific accuracy by Illuminate Labs Blog Editor Taylor Graber MD

Elta MD makes some of the most popular sunscreens in the world. They claim to be the “#1 Dermatologist-Recommended Sunscreen Brand”, and their most popular products offer a blend of physical and chemical sun protection.

In this review we’ll analyze the ingredients of their best seller EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 as well as their tinted sunscreen to determine if the ingredients are safe and effective.

Unlike nearly all other companies publishing review content, we are not affiliated with any brands we review nor do we make money from affiliate links, so our reviews are exclusively based on medical research and not biased.

Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46 Review

Elta MD’s SPF 46 product has two active ingredients: zinc oxide and octinoxate.

Zinc oxide is one of the most well-studied sunscreen ingredients, and is called “physical sunscreen” even though this is mostly a misnomer. Most health sites report that physical sunscreen reflects the sun’s rays, but medical research proves that metal oxides like zinc work by absorbing UV rays just like what’s commonly considered as “chemical sunscreen.”

Zinc oxide has been thoroughly studied for safety and is conclusively a safe ingredient, based on current research. It’s been becoming more popular as an ingredient in sunscreen because it’s relatively inexpensive and very effective.

Octinoxate, on the other hand, may be unsafe. This chemical UV blocking agent has been shown in several medical studies to cause endocrine disruption in animals.

We also reviewed a human study which grouped this ingredient together with several other sunscreen chemicals and found that the combination reduced testosterone levels in men, but it’s impossible to say whether the octinoxate alone would have the same effect.

This ingredient is also being banned in some jurisdictions for damage to coral reefs, so environmentally conscious consumers may wish to avoid it.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46

On the product page, we find it interesting that zinc oxide and some inactive ingredients are listed under “Ingredient​​ Insights” but not octinoxate, which is one of only two active ingredients. This leads us to believe that EltaMD knows this is a potentially harmful ingredient and is trying to avoid discussing its inclusion into the formula.

We also find it strange that the “Ingredient Insights” section includes inactive ingredients. By definition, these are compounds in a formula at such a low dose that they are not expected to have any biologic effect. It’s deceptive, in our opinion, to make marketing claims about inactive ingredients because definitionally they do nothing to increase efficacy of a product.

Three of the four ingredients in Elta’s “Ingredient Insights” section are inactive ingredients, and some have health claims listed like “helps diminish the visible signs of aging.” We saw this same type of deceptive marketing when we reviewed Goli gummies: the company was highlighting ingredients in their marketing that weren’t even active ingredients on their Supplement Facts panel.

Overall we would not recommend this product due to the inclusion of octinoxate and the questionable health claims made.

Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen Review

Elta MD’s second best selling product is called Elta MD UV Clear Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46. Tinted sunscreens have two main benefits according to Elta MD’s site: to reduce white residue from standard sunscreen and to reflect more light.

This product has the exact two same active ingredients as the regular Elta sunscreen we reviewed above (zinc oxide and octinoxate), so our concerns over the safety of the formulation are the same.

The inactive ingredients are almost exactly the same too, which isn’t surprising because sunscreen isn’t a super complicated product. One main difference is that the tinted sunscreen contains iron oxides for the pigmentation effect. This is an effective ingredient based on medical research, and has a synergistic effect with zinc oxide, meaning the two ingredients work especially well together.

We think that this product is superior to the regular Elta MD SPF 46 product due to the inclusion of these iron oxides, but wouldn’t recommend this product either due to the octinoxate.

Better Alternatives

We recommend searching for a sunscreen with zinc oxide and iron oxides, and minimal other ingredients. It’s important to ensure the inactive ingredients aren’t toxic or potentially endocrine-disrupting. PubMed is a great, free resource of medical studies where you can type in the ingredient you see on a label and do some research into studies on it.

We generally don’t recommend specific brands in an effort to remain unbiased, but may publish a review of the best and safest sunscreens in the future if there’s enough consumer demand for it (feel free to write to us and let us know)!

Conclusion

Elta MD makes sunscreens that are likely to be effective based on the ingredients, but we believe there may be some potential safety issues with one of the two active ingredients in their top products called octinoxate. 

We don’t recommend Elta MD sunscreens due to the inclusion of octinoxate, and we also find their marketing of inactive ingredients to be ethically questionable.

We recommend that health-conscious consumers look for a sunscreen which is primarily made with zinc oxide and iron oxides, and has well-researched and safe inactive ingredients. 




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