Ingredient Watch List: Octinoxate, the Potentially Dangerous Chemical Sunscreen


For decades now we've been told to wear sunscreen to protect ourselves from skin cancer, as well as the premature signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. Even in the winter months, when many of us used to tuck our sunscreens in the back cupboards, we've learned that sun protection is key to protecting the skin from damage.

It's only been in recent years that we've heard hints of, “Whoops, um, maybe not.” Turns out that several of the popular chemical sunscreens in many of our sunblocks and even makeup products could be doing us more harm than good.

I've already posted about two of these potentially dangerous sunscreens—PABA and oxybenzone. This time, I'm talking about octinoxate, reportedly the most widely used UVB-blocking agent in the skin care industry because it is less irritating than other sunscreen ingredients. Here's why if you have this ingredient lurking around your medicine cabinet or makeup drawer, you may want to replace it with safer zinc oxide.

Even in the winter, you need to protect your skin, but chemical sunscreens may make sun damage worse.

What is Octinoxate?

Also called octyl methoxycinnamate, octinoxate is an organic compound formed from methoxycinnamic acid and 2-ethylhexanol. A clear liquid, it's insoluble in water, and is used in sunscreens and other cosmetics to protect from skin damage. It absorbs ultraviolet radiation in the UVB range, and is permitted by the FDA in skin care formulations at 7.5 percent.

Exposure to Sun Reduces Effectiveness

There are some concerns surrounding this ingredient that make me a little uncomfortable with it. First of all, it's not very stable. When it's exposed to sunlight, it is changed into a less UV-absorbent form, which would seem to compromise its effectiveness.

According to a 2005 study, researchers exposed various chemical sunscreen ingredients, including octinoxate, to UV rays. The results showed that the exposure reduced octinoxate's ability to protect from UV rays. (The octinoxate was irradiated together with avobenzone and oxybenzone.)

In a 2008 article in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, the authors write, “Upon exposure to sunlight, octinoxate degrades into a photoproduct with less UV-absorbing ability.”

Apparently that's why manufacturers combine octinoxate with other sunscreens, to help reduce the degradation, but as was shown in this test, combinations with avobenzone and oxybenzone didn't help. So the concern here is that even if you're using it regularly, it may not be protecting you the way you think it is.

Increase Free Radicals

The other concern with this ingredient and other chemical sunscreens is that they may increase exposure to skin-damaging free radicals. In the aforementioned study, exposure to UV rays produced free radicals in the films that persisted even after exposure had ended. That means that this ingredient could be increasing the damage to skin from UV rays, and that the damage could continue even after you get out of the sun.

Some manufacturers combine sunscreen ingredients with other antioxidants in an effort to quench this free-radical damage, but so far we don't have enough studies to know if that's helping. We don't even know for sure how sunscreens work. A 2005 study, for example, looked at exactly what several chemical sunscreens did in the skin to reduce sunburn. The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that sunscreens may prevent redness partly by UV absorption and partly by inhibition of the skin's inflammatory response. As such, sunscreens might promote instead of protect against melanoma.”

Hormone Disruptor Too?

There is another concern with octinoxate—that it may be a hormone disruptor. A 2004 animal study, for example, found the chemical to have estrogenic activity. Whether or not these same effects would be seen in humans is not yet clear. The Environmental Working Group notes that octinoxate is a moderate hazard because it may lead to developmental and reproductive toxicity as it easily penetrates skin. More research is needed, but for now, experts recommend that children and pregnant women steer clear.

Safer, More Nourishing Choices

Most chemical sunscreens have some concerning research behind them. The ones that are proven safe so far are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as long as they're not present in smaller, penetrating nanoparticles (check the website of the manufacturer). In addition to using these two safer options, don't forget that good sun protection includes clothing, a healthy diet full of antioxidants, and all-natural skin creams full of antioxidants.

Do you avoid chemical sunscreens? Please share your story.

* * *

Sayre RM, et al., “Unexpected photolysis of the sunscreen octinoxate in the presence of the sunscreen avobenzone,” Photochem Photobiol., 2005 Mar-Apr; 81(2):452-6,

C Antoniou, et al., “Sunscreens—what's important to know,” JEADV, September 2008, Volume 22, Issue 9, pages 1110-1119,

Chiang, Thomas M., et al., “Sunscreen ingredients inhibit inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS): a possible biochemical explanation for the sunscreen melanoma controversy,” Melanoma Research, February 2005, Volume 15, Issue 1: 3-6,

Schlumpf M., et al., “Endocrine activity and developmental toxicity of cosmetic UV filters—an update,” Toxicology, 2004 Dec 1;205(1-2):113-22,

comments (16 and counting)


Reader Interactions


  1. AC says

    When you google chemical spf, they all tell you how great it is for your skin most especially if you have sensitive/acne prone skin. This has never been the case for me. I used a tinted moisturizer that was non comedogenic, derm approved and contained Octisalate. The tinted moisturizer is great but I started noticing I would get hormonal breakouts on my chin which I’ve never had before but it didn’t really occur to me that it was from the TM. I thought maybe it was stress, lack of diet, candida…Fast forward a year, after changing my diet, taking estroblock and liver support, getting facials regularly, and using a vegan zinc (nano) oxide tinted moisturizer, and finally feeling clear again, I went back to the old one just to test my theory and I was right but hoping to be wrong because I loved it so much. I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly. And after googling and finding your research on octisalate, it makes sense. It’s not an answer I’ve found anywhere else. I’m back in the supplements to try and clear the hormonal break out.

  2. Linda says

    Thank you for this information. My dermatologist always stressed to use SPF protection with Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide of 30 plus SPF. However, on my last visit she recommended I purchase a product she sold at her office called Glytone, which contains Octinoxate 7.5%, Octisalate 2.0 % and Zinc Oxide 7.65%. Is this going to be an effective and safe sunscreen to use?

    Please advise for I was just going to invest in more of it.

    Thank you.

    • Annmarie Skin Care says

      Hi there!

      With the zinc, it does have some sun protection but we definitely suggest researching all of the ingredients in your sun protection to make sure that it will work for you.

  3. Marie Penrose says

    Thanks for the confirmation. Octinoxate is also an ingredient in many commercial lip balms. Natural Yucca Products lip balms don’t have that questionable chemical in them. How many other questionable chemicals are being touted as safe and yet will be discovered to be dangerous later?

  4. Lucy says

    I have melasma…so very hard to get rid off, frankly, once you get it, it’s impossible to get rid off. I’ve found that mineral sunscreens doesn’t work as well as chemical ones, specifically if you can get your hands on the European sunscreen with Tinosorb M and S and other good stuff. So, that’s what I use. I use mineral sunscreen in the winter and fall months and it works well. But I live in MI and sun exposure is limited then.

    • Gina says

      No they actually lived longer then we did. Everything they did was natural not preserved. Organic is and always will be the best way to go. Thank you.

  5. Kelly says

    This is a follow up to my previous comment. I stopped using the chemical sunscreens one month ago. I just got my new blood lab report and my liver enzymes are back to normal. I find it hard to believe it was not the sunscreen. I am an extremely healthy and health conscious person. I am now using a sunscreen with zinc oxide.

  6. Kelly says

    I used chemical sunscreens and I broke out into a terrible rash. I used it daily for 4 months and my liver enzymes have gone sky high. Wonder if there is a correlation?

  7. Tina says

    In the past 2 months I have been using NO chemicals on my skin . I started making my own lotions and cleansers. We decided to go to our local beach and sunscreen was something I had forgotten about buying the ingredients to make it . I live in a small town , so these unique items are not readily available unless I order online. So, I thought a couple of days with a regular sunscreen on the beach will be fine. I was wrong!!! It didn’t happen emmediatly . But , within 2 days my energy level plummeted. I began to have a headache . Not just any headache , but a HORMONE HEADACHE! It was not time for me to have one of those naturally . You women reading understand. It took 3 days and 3 detox baths for me to feel normal. I also had s horrible break out on my neck area which is hormone related. So , I know some are skeptics , but I’m living proof that these hormone disrupters and chemicals are hurting us and we don’t realize it. Doctors will tell us we are just pre – menopausal or depressed! Give us more chemicals and take whatever they say. We are killing ourselves with conventional medicines . I’m
    Not a freak, tree hugger, hippy or whatever some may want to label me. But , I am someone who knows what I’ve experienced.

  8. Leanne says

    I wish there was a way for me to upload a picture of my face after using Mary Kay. Products for only one day. The ingredients or compounds mentioned above are in there products being sold. I have never had a skin condition or skin reaction until using their line of facial cleaners, scrubs, mask and Cc cream foundation and primer.. the only ingredients in the last two mentioned products are as followed: Avobenzone, Homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone and oxybenzone. These chemicals really broke out my skin. Pretty bad. Rather it be said to be just an allergic reaction vs the actual chemicals they absolutely have a negative reaction to skin contact.

  9. Leslie says

    I’ve looked up homemade sunscreens and carrot seed oil is the highest blocker. With raspberry seed oil coming in second. There was quite a big list with coconut oil and olive oil as some of the oils. So just using natural oil to coat our skin is the best. I wish I’d copied the web site. . . .

  10. Janet says

    Use sunscreens for sensitive skin, such as ” Neutrogena for sensitive skin
    This one doesn’t seem to have anything one could get a bad reaction to.
    I got a rash with anything containing an ingredient that ended with benzone
    Remove it after getting out of sun, stay in the sun for for no longer than an hour
    No problems; I have done my research, my daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 Melonoma, from a mole. she lives on today. she wasn’t one to sun bath
    But we live in Maui, every thing in moderation folks 😉

  11. Janet says

    If you use a sunscreen for sensitive skin, with no allergens such as anything
    That says Benzone at the end of the word; No fragrance. You should be okay.
    Nuetragena for sensitive skin is a good safe choice. I live in Maui, my daughter
    Had stage 4 melanoma, ( still living) I’ve done my research.

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