Most Popular in:

Sun Care Treatments

Email This Item! Print This Item!

Is Your Sunscreen Doing More Harm Than Good?

By: Rhonda Allison
Posted: April 27, 2012, from the May 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Is Your Sunscreen Doing More Harm Than Good?

page 2 of 9

Today, the vast majority of SPF formulas have a laundry list of chemicals that potentially subject the skin to dangerous ingredients. Some of the most common chemical ingredients in nonmineral sunscreens include octinoxate, oxybenzone (a form of benzophenone) and avobenzone.

In addition to increased cancer rates, these unstable chemicals have also been linked to hormone imbalance, dysfunctions in sexual development and function, as well as birth defects because of their estrogenlike effects.7

  • Octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate)—an estrogenic chemical that has been linked to hormonal imbalance and increased rates of cancer.8
  • Oxybenzone (a derivative of benzophenone)—a chemical that may cause hormone disruption.9, 10 In Europe, products with 0.5% or more of this chemical must have the warning label “Contains oxybenzone.”11
  • Avobenzone—a free radical-generator that absorbs UV radiation energy and, since it cannot destroy it, converts the light energy to chemical energy, which is typically released as free radicals in the body.12–14

When several of these chemicals are combined to form a broad-spectrum sunscreen, the formula may release its own free radicals, subjecting the skin to damage.13, 14

Below the surface

Scientists have also been researching the ability of these chemicals to permeate the skin and enter the blood stream, possibly resulting in other damaging effects. Each of these chemicals—oxybenzone, octinoxate and avobenzone—work as penetration-enhancers, meaning they are easily absorbed by the skin, so the longer they sit on the skin, the higher of a threat they pose.15

A study conducted in the United States using biomonitoring detected oxybenzone (or benzophenone-3) in 96% of the population.7, 16 In Europe, a study found traces of four common sunscreen chemicals in breast milk, potentially exposing infants to these chemicals.17

Physical vs. chemical