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Ingredient Watch List: Octinoxate, the Potentially Dangerous Chemical Sunscreen


Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is general in nature and for informational purposes. It is not meant to substitute for the advice... read more

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is general in nature and for informational purposes. It is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. None of the statements on this site are a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease or health-related condition. If you suspect you have a disease or health-related condition of any kind, you should contact your health care professional immediately. Please read all product packaging carefully and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program. Cosmetic products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. read less

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?

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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,

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COMMENTS ( 16 and counting )
  1. heidi says:

    Solar Rx sounds great but won’t work for hours out in the water surfing. My challenge is finding a sunscreen that stays on while in the water and does not clog my pores as I break out very easily. Any suggestions?

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for your comments!!

    Heidi, for sun protection, we — first and foremost — recommend the shade. 🙂 (I know, it’s boring advice.) Honestly, we don’t trust any of the sunscreens out there and cannot recommend one to use at this point.

    We suggest checking out the EWG’s Cosmetics Database to find out the cleanest sunscreens they recommend:

    I hope that helps! Please let me know if there’s anything else we can do for you. 🙂

  3. Beatriz Lopez says:

    HI Heidi~

    Sorry I just saw this. Try Badger Balm’s all natural mostly organic sunscreens. They make some for active use, that are up to 80 minutes water resistant. They are very safe and work wonderful! They have all sorts of different ones to choose from all considered to be very safe, with NO chemicals of any kind.
    Hope that helps!

  4. Shawn Smith says:

    What did people do during biblical times before sunscreen was invented? They spent much time outdoors traveling, working in their vineyards, and in their fields. And all of this in the hot sun. How did they keep from dying from too much exposure?

    • Amanda Harding says:

      They all died at much earlier ages than we do.

      • 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. 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.

  6. 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 😉

  7. 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. . . .

  8. Leslie says:

    I found it, wellnessmama is where she lists different oils with their spf.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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?

  12. 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.