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The secret “illegal” ingredient in the best sunscreens

Yesterday I told you all about the Sunscreen Innovation Act and how the EWG is pushing us to get safer sunscreens by skipping safety testing. (It’s a long story, follow the link above and you’ll see what I mean.)

By now we know that the law DID pass which hopefully means we’ll see these “superior” European ingredients on the U.S. market soon. But wouldn’t it be awesome if you could get some of these European ingredients right now? Well you can, sort of.

The secret sunscreen ingredient

As noted in yesterday’s discussion, the laws that govern approval of ingredients for Over the Counter products like sunscreens make the process very ponderous. There is, however, another way to get a sunscreen ingredient approved that bypasses this process: companies can petition the FDA to approve a new sunscreen active as part of a New Drug Application. This NDA “backdoor” is not used very often because it’s an expensive process and it limits the types of formulas in which the active can be used. But this is exactly what cosmetic giant L’Oreal did back in 2006 with their patented ingredient “Ecamsule.” Ecamsule not only provides stronger UVA protection but can also be used in formulas which are longer lasting and which have a better skin feel.

So, armed with data from Europe, Canada, and other parts of the world, L’Oreal won U.S. approval for a few, very specific Ecamsule-based products. Sound too good to be true? There is a catch: First of all, it’s expensive so you can expect to pay considerably more for products containing this secret ingredient. Second, you may have a hard time finding Ecamsule products. That’s partly because L’Oreal is limited in the number of different formulation in which it can be used but it’s also because Ecamsule goes under several different names. It’s also known as Mexoryl SX, Anthelios SX, and the ever popular terephthalylidene dicamphor-sulfonic acid. To make things even more tricky, L’Oreal sells these products under the guise of some of their non-L’Oreal brands like La Roche-Posay and Vichy.

Still, if you’re aching to try sunscreen formulas that are not allowed under the OTC monograph, here are links to a few L’Oreal Ecamsule sunscreens. (Note: If you actually buy any product after clicking our link please be advised that we received a microscopic commission from Amazon. Trust me, it’s not a lot of money but I just thought you should know.)

Top 5 best sunscreens with Ecamsule

La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream SPF 15 with Mexoryl SX La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 Suncreen Cream UVA Protection with Mexoryl SX Vichy Capital Soleil Max Protection SPF 50+ Face Cream Ombrelle Sunscreen SPF60 w/ MEXORYL Loreal Revitalift UV with Mexory SX

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Karen August 4, 2014, 1:56 am

    Great information for sun protection! I’m always looking to do all I can to minimize sun damage.

    My only concern is how they will work as a base for makeup. When I look at user reviews for any of these sunscreens that contain Ecamsule, women seem unhappy with their consistency, often complaining they are very thick and pasty like toothpaste. I’d be curious if anyone has tried one of these sunscreens under makeup and would then be kind enough to share their thoughts.

    @Randy: Does this mean that the La Roche-Posay sunscreens whose names include Anthelios (containing Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, & Oxybenzone) but NOT Emcamsule (so no “SX” in their name) are inferior in the sun protection they offer against UVA rays? There’s quite a few firestorms in user reviews going on at various websites as to whether the Anthelios ingredients protect against damaging UVA rays or not. Could you clarify?

    • Randy Schueller August 4, 2014, 8:29 pm

      “Does this mean that the La Roche-Posay sunscreens whose names include Anthelios (containing Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, & Oxybenzone) but NOT Emcamsule (so no “SX” in their name) are inferior in the sun protection they offer against UVA rays?”

      If you believe the data that shows ecamsule provides superior UVA protection, then yes, they would be inferior in that respect. I’m curious about the “firestorms” you mentioned. Do you have any example links that I could check out?

      • Armand Sadlier January 5, 2017, 1:30 pm

        LaRoche makes Antihelios WITH, and without Mexoryl. You have to read the ingredients. I found a place called PharmacyMix who has many Mexoryl options, and who will ship from Canada. Seems like a good company from my initial dealings.

        We have been using Ombrelle for 10+ years. Our family calls it ‘the force field’. We have a beach house in Maryland, and would go in June. Kids were white from the long winter. We would ‘slather’ them with 45 SPF, and they could go hours in the June sun and just very slowly get color. If you missed a spot, you found out. I’m trying the Antihelios 60 w/Mexoryl for faces at PharmacyMix.

        *disclaimer, I DO NOT work for this website. I just like to reward good service. I ordered two separate things, they CALLED me the next day to say they had combined shipping and refunded me the difference. Who does that?!

  • Karen August 4, 2014, 4:35 pm

    Hmm… It shows there are two comments here but only one is visible.

    • Randy Schueller August 4, 2014, 8:30 pm

      I’m not sure why that is. Do you see all the comments now?

  • Tara August 4, 2014, 10:24 pm

    This is great info as I’ve been wondering about these LRP products for some time. My question is that if ecamsule is great at blocking UVA, do I still need to be concerned about UVB?

    • Randy Schueller August 5, 2014, 6:10 am

      Tara: These products provide UVB protection as well as UVA.

  • BooBooNinja August 16, 2014, 12:56 pm

    I have an off-topic sunscreen related question.
    I typically layer my sunscreen: chemical first, then physical. Let’s say that one day I use a product with ZnO product first and then apply a product with both physical and chemical ingredients, e.g. TiO2 (UVB, UVA2) + avobenzone (UVA1). Does the physical barrier of ZnO block the chemical active from being absorbed into my skin, rendering the latter useless? Another example of this scenario is when I apply ZnO first and then use a tinted moisturizer with a chemical SPF.

    Keep up the great work. Cheers!

    • Randy Schueller August 17, 2014, 1:33 pm

      Boo Boo: I’ve never seen any data which indicates that the order of sunscreen addition makes any difference. My GUESS is that you should apply UV absorbers first because they are emulsions and need “soak” in to set up a film before they work properly.

      • BooBooNinja August 23, 2014, 11:15 pm

        Thanks, Randy.

  • Christina June 28, 2015, 8:58 am

    I realize this comment comes early a year after the original post, but if people are still looking for Mexoryl-containing sunscreen, I wanted to share my experience.

    I live close enough to Canada that I visit frequently. Five hours in the car, and I can be in Toronto. So in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I knew that L’Oreal was unable to sell Mexoryl-containing products in the U.S., so I decided to look for it in Toronto. I found it quite easily, right on the shelf of a regular drugstore, next to the Coppertone and Banana Boat. The brand is Ombrelle. And it is absolutely fantastic. To this day, I have never burned in the Caribbean.

    I bought what I needed for the time, and then continued (to this day) to make subsequent purchases via the Internet: I found a reputable Canadian-based site, and have it shipped (unless I am in country, and then I just buy it in person). Yes, you pay for shipping, and yes, you pay for the currency conversion. But here’s the thing: the Mexoryl-continuing products that you can find here in the States are very very expensive. And the packages are very small. If you want to take your spouse and kids to the pool and beach, you are going to spend a few HUNDRED dollars just on the sunscreen. Seriously? Heck with that.

    So…just do your research, and find a reputable web site in Canada that sells the Ombrelle products, and will ship to the States. Use your credit card that doesn’t charge conversion fees. And there you go. (I know Amazon is more convenient for a lot of people, but sometimes Amazon sellers charge huge premiums for items that get imported, and sometimes those sellers aren’t very reputable…it happens.) Of course, if you live close enough for a road trip, do what I do, and make sure you stop at the drugstore before heading home. You won’t be sorry.

    • Randy Schueller June 28, 2015, 10:15 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience Christina.

    • Sandy July 13, 2015, 11:33 am

      I agree. I have been buying La Roche Posay Anthelios XL (not SX that’s sold here, which is not as good) at various overseas websites for years. I”ve also bought it at regular drugstores when in Europe. I’ve used both Canadian and British websites, shopping around for best price and shipping. The last one I used, which was in March, was http://www.lookfantastic.com/home.dept and it worked out well.
      It’s a British website and had competitive pricing and free international shipping. Don’t order the week before vacation though – give it 3 or even 4 weeks to get to the US.

    • Armand Sadlier January 5, 2017, 1:41 pm

      You are SO right Christina. It’s one of those things you shake your head about why it isn’t everywhere. If I were a dermatologist, I’d make my customers use this. At least, if LESS skin cancer is a goal. The Force Field.
      Here’s a place in 2017 that is a good company and ships to the U.S.


  • Al January 10, 2017, 2:41 pm

    I’m incredibly disappointed that the FDA, after passage of the SIA, failed to approve any of the products under consideration. Their decision-making is really inexplicable, and arguably causing great harm to the American public. They recognize skin cancer is a public health crisis, but delay approvals out of a hypothetical fear of long-term use of these products. What is one to do? I have a history of melanoma in my family, and I’ve had many skin removals already (I’m in my early 30s)!

  • daniel March 31, 2018, 4:32 am

    I’m in Canada & have not been able to find a sunscreen with this that’s without other irritating ingredients. I just cannot use avobenzone, octisalate, paba, talc, alumina …etc…. they make my skin burn and swell.