May 16, 2018

On the heels of Hawaii’s recent ban of toxic sunscreen ingredients Oxybenzone and Octocrylene, there is also a general increase in consumer desire for “safer” sunscreens. Is a sunscreen safe just because it is “Oxybenzone Free”? Many sunscreen manufacturers would like you to believe so, and tout “Oxybenzone Free” on their labels and in their advertising, while continuing to use chemical ingredients like Avobenzone. But what is Avobenzone, and is it safe?

As we explained in our last blog post "Not All Sunscreens Are Created Equal" there are only two effective UVA blockers, one chemical and one mineral (Avobenzone and Zinc Oxide). Avobenzone was approved by the FDA in 1988 for its ability to absorb UVA rays, which cause premature aging and skin cancer. For that reason it is used by millions looking to protect themselves from the sun. But this is problematic for people worried about the toxic effects of what they are putting on their skin. Why?

Avobenzone breaks down quickly in the sun 

As an initial matter, once exposed to the sun, avobenzone alone only offers about 30 minutes of protection. Since UVA rays do their damage deep within the layers of your skin, you wouldn’t even know it until many years later. Because many chemical sunscreen companies still use avobenzone for UVA protection, they then have to add some other, even more unsafe, chemicals like octocrylene, homosalate, or octisalate to make the avobenzone work longer than 30 minutes.

  • Avobenzone Containing Sunscreens Often Cause Skin Allergies
  • There are a number of articles in the literature about Octocrylene - the most common avobenzone stabilizer chemical - causing skin irritation, including rashes and acne.

  • Avobenzone Containing Sunscreens can cause hormone disruption - and are even more toxic when exposed to chlorine

  • Avobenzone degrades when it is exposed to the sun (remember its short 30 minute life?), which results in harmful free radicals being released into the system. These free radicals can actually accelerate the aging process and increase the risk of illness including cancer. Making this worse, because of its short life - Avobenzone is always linked with other chemical ingredients, Octocrylene, Homosalate or Octisalate, to stabilize it, which each have dangerous side effects:

    • Octocrylene is most often found with Avobenzone. Too much of this chemical can have harmful side effects. Because it is absorbed into the skin so easily, it can penetrate to the deepest layers of the skin and has more interactions with other chemicals which causes changes deep in the skin, producing oxygen radicals that can damage cells and cause mutations.
    • Homosalate helps sunscreen to penetrate your skin, it is fast absorbing, accumulating in our bodies faster than we can get rid of it, becoming toxic and disrupting estrogen, androgen and progesterone levels. 
    A study published in Chemosphere found that avobenzone can turn toxic when exposed to chlorine. This can potentially result in kidney and liver dysfunction and nervous system disorders, as Inhabitat reports. Based on the multiple studies, “one could make a conclusion that a generally safe compound [can] transform in water and form more dangerous products,” said study author Albert Lebedev, MD. “In spite of the fact that there are no precise toxicological profiles for the most established products, it’s known that acetyl benzenes and phenols, especially chlorinated ones, are quite toxic.”

    For a safe alternative, consider using a chemical-free sunscreen likeTropicSport, which is made with natural minerals Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide and no chemical active ingredients. Luckily natural zinc oxide offers natural broad-spectrum sun protection from both burning UVB rays and the UVA rays that cause premature aging and skin cancer. Zinc doesn’t break down in the sun, doesn’t cause skin allergies, and doesn’t release free radicals. It is also reef-safe, unlike octocrylene!


    3 Responses

    Lisa Inzerillo
    Lisa Inzerillo

    November 19, 2018

    Thank you! Throwing out everything I hv with these ingredients. I use this stuff everyday on my face! Let’s try to keep as many chemicals out of our bodies as possible!


    October 09, 2018

    Thanks for the information. How ironic that we have to research safe sunscreen which is supposed to protect our health.


    October 09, 2018

    Most informative and well written article I’ve read in a long time! Thank you!

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