Concerns about sunscreens started to heat up in 2019 when the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked manufacturers for safety data on chemical ingredients, including octocrylene. In May of 2021, an independent testing lab found levels of another probable carcinogen, benzene, in several products, leading to some recalls.
What ingredients are good and which ones are not so good?
FDA research shows that the body absorbs enough of sunscreens’ chemical ingredients to warrant additional testing. The safety data requested by the FDA is still under review. In 2019, when the FDA proposed its most recent updates to sunscreen regulations, it stated that ZInc Oxide was the only current approved sunscreen active ingredient that is generally recognized as safe (GRAS), based on the currently available information. In the past year, numerous new studies have raised even more concerns about the endocrine-disrupting effects from several other ingredients: homosalate, avobenzone and oxybenzone, and octocrylene.
Working with researchers at the Paris-based Sorbonne University, Craig Downs, executive director of the nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory that studies risks to health and the environment and Joe DiNardo, a toxicologist who formerly worked in the cosmetics industry, tested 16 octocrylene-based sunscreens purchased in France and the U.S.
The research showed that benzophenone in sunscreens can interfere with estrogen, according to the WHO. The hormone plays a key role in the health of women, and disrupting it can lead to early puberty and altered functioning of reproductive organs. Downs’ study suggests that benzophenone was formed by degradation of octocrylene. Only sunscreens containing the UV blocker tested positive for the contaminant, and the levels increased over time.
Downs has been studying the health and environmental impact of sunscreens for many years. His research has led Hawaii and other beach tourist destinations such as the U.S. Virgin Islands to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, which is chemically related to benzophenone and octocrylene, because of research suggesting damage to coral reefs.
Studies have also found that octocrylene causes relatively high rates of skin allergies (Bryden 2006). It has also been linked to aquatic toxicity, with the potential to harm coral reefs (Stein 2019), and it is often contaminated with the known carcinogen benzophenone as stated above.
Mineral sunscreen is the way to go.
While there is still more research to be done on many of the chemicals found in sunscreens, one thing is for certain: using a mineral based sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide is the best way to protect not only you and your family, but also the coral reefs and other marine life.
[i] http://www.acne.org/blog/2010/07/06/more-on-avobenzone-and-octocrylene-our-sunscreen-ingredients/ [ii] http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700596/AVOBENZONE/ [iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3443608/ [iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17015167 [v] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/