Oxybenzone is a sunscreen agent (also known as benzophenone-3) that protects primarily from UVB rays, and some, but not all, UVA rays. It is part of the benzophenone group of chemicals.

Oxybenzone is approved for use in specific concentrations for sunscreens sold in all major countries, including the United States, Canada, European Union countries, Japan, Australia, China, and South Korea. Its safety in sunscreens is well established.

As a group, the benzophenones are used not only for sun protection but also as photostabilizers in cosmetics products. That means they keep products from turning color or from degrading in the presence of sunlight. They also have other uses, including flavor enhancers in food.

Oxybenzone is sometimes called out as a sunscreen active that is damaging to undersea coral reefs, the theory being that the sunscreen gets into the water from human activity in the oceans. However, despite research showing oxybenzone negatively impacts coral components in vitro (meaning in a lab setting), there doesn’t seem to be conclusive causation in a marine environment, especially given the numerous other factors, including climate change, believed to be responsible for the loss of coral reefs.

The Personal Care Products Council looked at the research and concluded the following: “Degradation of the world’s coral reefs is a serious concern. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program, coral reefs are threatened by an increasing array of impacts – primarily from global climate change, unsustainable fishing and other factors. There is no scientific evidence that under naturally-occurring conditions, sunscreen ingredients, which have been safely used around the world for decades, are contributing to this issue.”

This sunscreen active is one of several currently undergoing further safety testing under the purview of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This testing is to gain a better understanding of the systemic absorption, metabolism, and elimination of these sunscreen actives when small amounts enter the body via topical use. It’s important to know that the presence of this or other sunscreen actives in the body does not mean your health is at risk. It is anticipated that the additional testing being done will reaffirm the safety of these ingredients; however, those who remain concerned can choose sunscreens with mineral actives (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) which are not included in the FDA’s new call for additional testing.

References for this information:
Archives of Environmental Containment and Toxicology, February 2016, pages 265-288
Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, and Photomedicine, 2011, pages 58-67
Archives of Dermatology, July 2011 pages 865-866
European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers. Opinion on Benzophenone-3. [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2015 July]. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_sccp/docs/sccp_o_159.pdf

See UVA benzophenone

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