What's Wrong with Sunscreens Containing Octocrylene?

August 10, 2021

Key Points

  • Octocrylene is an active ingredient in many chemical sunscreens 
  • Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing Octocrylene alongside Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, and Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene breaks down into Benzophenone, a potential carcinogen and known endocrine disruptor. 
  • We know the dangers of Octocrylene, but need more research to understand the extent of human and environmental harm.

On the heels of Hawaii’s recent toxic sunscreen ban, consumers are looking for “safer” sunscreens. Is sunscreen safe just because it is “Oxybenzone Free”? Many sunscreen manufacturers would like you to believe so. They tout “Oxybenzone Free” on their labels and in their advertising, while continuing to use chemical ingredients like Avobenzone and Octocrylene. What are these chemicals and are they safe?

Octocrylene

  • Octocrylene is a common active ingredient in chemical sunscreens. Octocrylene and can penetrate to the deepest layers of the skin and its prevalence in sunscreen is under scrutiny for environmental and human health concerns.
  • Recent studies have identifieda potential carcinogen linked to octocrylene. Octocrylene breaks down into Benzophenone, a hormone disruptor and potential “reproductive toxicant”. While we need more research to fully understand the consequences of Benzophenone exposure through sunscreen,Haereticus Environmental Laboratory states that “Benzophenone is also an endocrine disruptor, affecting thyroid function as well as inducing anti-androgenic activity, delaying testicular development and causing anatomic difficulties with female reproductive organs."
  • Oxybenzone causes similar problems in marine ecosystems, exhibiting reproductive toxicity in fish and rendering coral reefs more vulnerable to reef bleaching.

As we explained in our blog post "Not All Sunscreens Are Created Equal" there are two proven-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

Avobenzone breaks down in the sun in 30 minutes 

As an initial matter, once exposed to the sun, avobenzone alone offers about 30 minutes of protection. Since UVA rays do their damage deep within the layers of your skin, you wouldn’t experience the effects until many years later. Because many chemical sunscreen companies continue to use avobenzone for UVA protection, they have to add 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 which results in harmful free radicals being released into the body. These free radicals can 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:

    • Homosalate  helps active chemical sunscreens penetrate your skin. It is used because it is fast-absorbing, oftentimes accumulating in our bodies faster than our bodies can dispose of it. It can become toxic and disrupt estrogen, androgen and progesterone levels. 
    Check for Avobenzone
    A study published in Chemosphere found that avobenzone can turn toxic when exposed to chlorine. The study suggests reactions from these chemicals interacting form new compounds that could result in kidney and liver dysfunction and nervous system disorders. 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.” 

    Benzene

    In recent months, there has been increasing coverage of unsafe levels of benzene in sunscreen products. Here's what you need to know.

    What is Benzene?
    Benzene is a chemical created by human activities and natural processes. Although benzene is a widely used industrial chemical, human exposure to it at a certain levels poses serious risk. Benzene exposure may lead to various cancers, as the chemical causes cells to stop working properly.

    Why is Benzene in Sunscreen?
    While benzene is not a listed ingredient in any sunscreen, high levels of this chemical have recently been found in sunscreens as a result of manufacturing contamination. While benzene can enter the bloodstream through skin, aerosols sunscreens offer another pathway, through the lungs. Several recalls have recently been issued for aerosol sunscreens with high concentrations of benzene.


    What Can You Do?

    For a safe alternative, consider using an active chemical-free sunscreen likeTropicSport, which is made with natural minerals Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide and no chemical active ingredients. Natural zinc oxide offers natural broad-spectrum sun protection from both 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-friendly, unlike active chemicals like octocrylene.



    What about TropicSport?
    We want you to know that we have tested our sunscreens for benzene and confirmed that our products are safe for you, your family, and our environment. Our hope is that you will make the switch to TropicSport, a reef-safe and human-safe sunscreen that won’t compromise your health.

    Willy Bemiss
    Willy Bemiss


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