Oxybenzone Safety

Technically, all sunscreen active ingredients allowed by FDA should be safe but a lot of new research has found potential health risks of several of these sunscreen active ingredients. Since sunscreen is used everyday and some of the sunscreen ingredients themselves are irritants, it is good to know better about each of the sunscreen active ingredients. First, let’s look at oxybenzone, also called benzophenone-3, Eusolex 4360, Escalol 567.

Oxybenzone absorbs UVB and short-wave (NOT all) UVA rays. The maximum concentration of oxybenzone allowed in US is 6%.

Oxybenzone is one of the sunscreen active ingredients that sting the eyes. Other than this, there are two concerns about oxybenzon.

  1. Health risks: A 2008 study found oxybenzone present in 96.8% of 2,517 urine samples collected as part of the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This indicates that certain percentage of oxybenzone is absorbed into the body with daily application. All common sunscreens penetrate into the stratum corneum but only oxybenzone is proved to present appreciable amounts in deeper tissue and the system. Although there is no evidence that this is related to toxic consequences, the fact of deeper absorption, itself, has already concerned me. Oxybenzone has also been detected in human breast milk following topical application. Women that are pregnant or breastfeeding, in particular, should be cautious and avoid sunscreen products containing oxybenzone.
  2. Photoallergic reactions: A 2001 study in UK shows that, although photoallergic reactions to UV filters are generally rare, oxybenzone has much higher rate of reactions compared with other commonly used UV filters. Since the UV filters causing most of the photoallergic reactions, such as PABA, amyl dimethyl PABA and benzophenone-10, are now rarely used in sunscreen manufacture, oxybenzone is currently the commonest contact photoallergen still in widespread use. It is worth mentioning that, in this study, octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate) has extremely low incidence of reactions. I have recommended sunscreen products with octinoxate and zinc oxide in Best Sunscreen Products for Sensitive Skin.

In European Union, products intended for skin protection with 0.5% or more oxybenzone must be labeled “Contains Oxybenzone”.

I used to consider a sunscreen product with oxybenzone but from now on I will not list sunscreen products with oxybenzone on the best product list any more. When I recommend skin care products, I want to stay on the safe side.

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