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Ingredient Watch List: Oxybenzone, the Chemical Sunscreen with Potential Health Hazards

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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

Most people want to protect their skin these days, not only from aging, but from the risk of skin cancer. We’ve seen a large increase in the use of sunscreen over the last couple decades because of these concerns.

It used to be when people wore sunscreen, it left white residue on their skin. New technology, however, created formulas that disappear like lotions. Unfortunately, some of these new products are concerning because of how they may react in the skin. Let’s look at one of the most common types of chemical sunscreens—oxybenzone.

What is Oxybenzone?

Oxybenzone (also called “benzophenone-3” or “BP-3”) is an organic compound used as an ingredient in sunscreens because it absorbs UVB and UVA rays. You’ll find this ingredient in many sunscreens today, including regular lotion sunscreens and makeup foundations with an SPF. The ingredient easily dissolves into lotions and creams, so you have a nice product that disappears on your face and then protects from the sun.

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Oxybenzone is also used in lip balms, lipstick, moisturizers, anti-aging creams, conditioners, and fragrances.

What are the Concerns?

Many people are concerned with this ingredient for three reasons:

  1. Widespread Exposure: A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found widespread exposure to oxybenzone. After analyzing urine samples from over 2,500 people, researchers found BP-3 in over 96 percent of them, concluding that exposure was prevalent in the general population during 2003-2004. Females were more likely than males to have concentrations above the 95th percentile, likely as a result of the differences in use of personal care products, the researchers said.
  2. Photosensitizer: Some laboratory studies have shown that oxybenzone penetrates the skin, then increases the production of DNA-damaging free radicals when exposed to light, which suggests it may have the potential to encourage changes in the skin that could lead to cancer. More studies need to be done, but early studies have raised concerns.
  3. Hormone Disruptor: Animal studies have indicated that oxybenzone may disrupt the hormone system, causing weak estrogenic activity.

Should We be Worried?

I’m the first one to recommend that we use sunscreen, but the question now is, which sunscreen? The American Academy of Dermatology still recommends sunscreens with oxybenzone, and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel confirmed the ingredient was safe for use in cosmetic products. The Skin Care Foundation acknowledges some of the concerns, but notes that research on oxybenzone is limited, and there’s just not enough evidence yet to call it dangerous.

Does that mean we should just keep using it until more studies show potentially dangerous results?

I recommend you don’t take the risk. Safer options are available, and include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients now exist in products that don’t leave a white residue, so there’s really no reason to risk your health with an ingredient that may present possible hazards. Read labels and avoid oxybenzone—as well as other chemical sunscreens, in my opinion. Better yet, don’t forget to wear hats, stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, use umbrellas, and reapply your sunscreen every couple hours or after sweating.

Are you concerned about oxybenzone? Which sunscreen would you recommend?

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Photo courtesy Matt Champlin via Flickr.com.

Sources:
Antonia M. Calafat, et al. “Concentrations of the Sunscreen Agent Benzophenone-3 in Residents of the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2004,” Environmental Health Perspectives, July 2008; 116(7). http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.11269.

Kerry M. Hanson, et al., “Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced Reactive Oxygen Species in the Skin,” Free Radical Biology and Medicine, October 2006; 41(8): 1205-1212. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891584906004138.

“When Sunscreen Safety is Called Into Question,” Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/news/sunscreen/sunscreen-safety-is-called-into-question.

Statement by John Bailey, Chief Scientist, Personal Care Products Council, Response to the 2010 EWG Sunscreen Report, May 24, 2010. http://www.ctfa.org/newsroom/20100524.

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COMMENTS ( 2 and counting )
  1. ellen says:

    I just tried Suntegrity, from The Detox Market. Great product with good ingredients and it even smells good!

  2. Mila says:

    I just discovered after two years of using Neutrogena sunscreen daily (spf 55) with oxybenzone that IT is what has been causing a horrible, red rash on my neck, face and chest — not food or any other thing. It is the LAST thing I thought that could have been the cause! For two years, I’ve suffered with the photo-toxic allergy (flared up in the sun) from putting on something I thought was GOOD for my skin. It has been MISERABLE and interfering with my life. Where is the FDA??? I am so disappointed and am completely going natural now with makeup and sunscreen!

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