Oxybenzone in Sunscreen: Facts, Dangers and Everything Else You Need to Know

sun cream with oxybenzone

We all know how important it is to take care of our bodies. Even though working out and eating healthy are the most popular ways to ensure that we live a healthy lifestyle, it’s also imperative that we stay mindful of what we apply to our bodies on a daily basis. Unfortunately, not all skincare and makeup products available are healthy for us or good for the environment. Chemical, oxybenzone is just one example of this. Normally found in sunscreen, this widely-available chemical has more to it than meets the eye. Keep reading to find out more information on how this chemical is included in popularly used products and what effects it has on human health.

What is Oxybenzone?

Though oxybenzone is included in a lot of products, many people aren’t aware of what the chemical is, how it’s made or what it even does. According to natural beauty and baby company, The Honest Company, Oxybenzone, otherwise known as benzonephenone-3 is a chemical compound that is, “naturally found in some flowering plants, but it’s commercially produced from benzoyl chloride with 3-hydroxyanisole”.

The chemical acts as a filter that absorbs UVB and UVA II rays which in turn, provides UV coverage for your skin.

What Products Will You Find Oxybenzone in?

As oxybenzone is most well-known for its UV absorption, it should come as no surprise that the chemical is most often found in sunscreen.

Along with sunscreen, oxybenzone can be found in several kinds of personal care products such as facial moisturizers, lip balm, lipstick, anti-ageing creams, hair conditioners, and fragrances.

Wondering why this sunscreen agent is included in personal care products as well? According to makeup database, Cosmetics Info, since oxybenzone absorbs UV radiation, it can also help to protect both cosmetics and personal care products from deterioration due to exposure from UV light.

One effective way to ensure that you’re only applying the most natural kind of personal care products possible is to look towards companies that have are natural and organic. These kinds of products won’t be containing any kind of toxic or harmful chemicals that can potentially be damaging to your skin. Hair colour company, oVertone is just one example of these kinds of companies out there who only use the safest and most natural ingredients possible for their hair colour options.

If you’re curious as to what products you own that may possibly include oxybenzone, the fastest and most effective way is to simply read over your ingredient’s labels, looking for any traces of oxybenzone. With oxybenzone having multiple synonyms that can be harder to read and understand, look towards sites that have a cosmetics database that can give you information on all the personal care and sunscreen products containing this chemical.

Oxybenzone Dangers and Side Effects

Is Oxybenzone Toxic?

The Environmental Working Group has rated oxybenzone at a level 8. With 10 being the highest possible hazard limit, oxybenzone is definitely one of the more toxic ingredients out there.

How does oxybenzone affect human health?

While research is still being gathered, possible health side effects are coming to light of using this chemical. The Environmental Working Group believes that oxybenzone is potentially an endocrine disruptor, therefore can affect the thyroid and other hormone processes in the body. It’s also been stated that oxybenzone can affect sperm count in men perhaps even causing male infertility. This, of course, can also pose a risk to women’s reproductive systems, and possibly cause endometriosis.

Given these possible side effects, it’s important to limit both you and your kids’ exposure to oxybenzone. The FDA reported that oxybenzone is safe for use for children over 6 months old and adults in concentrations of 6% or less in over the counter sunscreens.

Oxybenzone and Skin Cancer

Despite the fact that there are over a thousand different kinds of sunscreens out there, the Environmental Working Group has deemed only ⅓ of available sunscreens safe while others were found to not provide adequate sun protection and/or contain unhealthy ingredients such as oxybenzone.

Ironically enough, as sunscreen is supposed to help protect you from skin cancer, there is some evidence that shows that the use of oxybenzone can potentially cause cell damage which can ultimately lead to skin cancer.

According to the Environmental Working Group, Vitamin A which is often added to sunscreens as a way to slow skin ageing might be the cause of this. Scientists have found that the use of Vitamin A can cause hyperplasia and that when in sunlight, retinyl palmitate, a derivative of vitamin A will form small molecules, thereby damaging DNA and speeding up the growth of cancerous cells.

Even with these findings, research and studies are still being performed in order to adequately find out the source of cancer diagnoses.

Oxybenzone and Pregnancy

It’s always wise to stay mindful of everything that you’re applying and putting into your body while pregnant as your baby will absorb everything you ingest as well.

In fact, a medical journal, Reproductive Toxicology has linked oxybenzone exposure to birth defects. The defect, otherwise known as Hirschsprung’s Disease is when oxybenzone blocks cells from travelling to the colon and creating nerve centres, resulting in symptoms of anaemia, vomiting & constipation, and an enlarged colon. If you want to read more on the study, here is the link to the article.

Just as it’s recommended to not apply oxybenzone to your body when you’re pregnant, the same goes for if you’re nursing. If you’re planning to nurse, stick with pregnancy safe sunscreens, as oxybenzone can get into your milk and expose your child to the potentially harmful chemical.

Is Oxybenzone Good or Bad for the Skin?

If you’re someone with skin issues, it’s important to pay extra attention to the ingredients you’re applying to your body. While everyone’s skin reacts differently to the use of oxybenzone, benzophenones were rated as the 2014’s “Allergen of the Year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

As you’ll most likely be applying oxybenzone through the use of sunscreen, it’s important to look out for symptoms similar to sun poisoning after you’ve applied your sunscreen. This will be the most telling sign if you’re allergic.

If susceptible, you’ll most likely have a red, itchy rash along with possible swelling, hives, blisters and raised bumps. Those with contact dermatitis have an increased chance of having this kind of allergy due to prone, sensitive skin.

The same goes for those with rosacea. When having sensitive skin, you’re going to want to apply sunscreen that will deflect UV rays away from the skin rather than absorbing it like oxybenzone does. In this case, it’s more helpful to apply a mineral-based sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Even though we all get breakouts every now and then, if you’re getting breakouts after applying sunscreen to your body, oxybenzone might not actually be the cause. Of course if you’re acne-prone, it’s helpful to avoid products with fragrances and benzophenones but according to NYC dermatologist, Dr. Whitney Bowe, when breaking out from sunscreen, it’s not actually from the ingredients included in the sunscreen but more from “…the other emollients, fragrances, or preservatives in the sunscreen.”

Should You Avoid Oxybenzone in Sunscreen?

According to research provided by the Environmental Working Group, oxybenzone is found in 80% of sunscreens. With these astounding numbers and the possible negative side effects it can cause to our health, it’s worth it to take a second look at the sunscreen stored away in your cabinets. Negative side effects of this chemical aren’t only limited to our health but it’s also affecting the health of our environment.

Sadly, studies have shown that the use of oxybenzone has been damaging to our coral reefs. Not only does it leave coral reefs bleached but it also has been known to affect the reproduction and growth of the marine life. The results have been so drastic that Hawaii has become the first state in the United States to ban the sale of products that contain both oxybenzone and octinoxate. Even though the bill isn’t to go into effect until 2021, tourist shops are already making an effort in supplying only marine safe sunscreens.

In an effort to avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, you’ll want to avoid some more well-known brands such as Aveeno, Neutrogena, Palmer’s, Vichy and Copperstone. The percentages of oxybenzone included will vary based on the company and specific product but you’ll want to be on the lookout for any labels containing oxybenzone or any of its synonym names.

Oxybenzone Free Sunscreens

Luckily, as the negative side effects of oxybenzone are coming to light, more and more companies are making an effort in creating safe and environmentally-friendly sunscreens.

When shopping for safe sunscreen, look for sunscreens with mineral UV filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. To avoid other potentially harmful chemicals, choose a natural sunscreen that carries some kind of certification such as Ecocert, The Soil Associaton and USDA. Here are some examples of natural sunscreens that are oxybenzone-free:

The protection of your skin is so important but so is your overall health. With both the health and environmental effects that come with using oxybenzone, it’s beneficial to apply healthier alternatives. Finding products that contain no traces of oxybenzone will bring you peace of mind and help you achieve the healthier, safest summer possible.

Author Bio:
Tara L. is a wellness and environmental enthusiast who lives in Denver, Colorado. When she’s not writing, she’s spending her time with her family and dogs.

2 Comments

    1. Glad to hear you found it useful Margarida. It’s definitely worth paying attention to the ingredients commonly found in sunscreens. Some of them are really bad for you.

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