Fact or Myth: Is Oxybenzone Bad for You?

This is a FACT.

In the name of safe sun exposure, we slather on broad spectrum SPF lotions to block UVA and UVB rays from burning our skin and increasing cancer risk. We might want to second-guess this tendency, not only because some safe sun exposure is necessary to maintain adequate vitamin D levels in the body, but also because the chemicals in these sunscreens might be causing more harm than good. Oxybenzone is one such culprit.

sunscreenAccording to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), oxybenzone is a chemical to avoid when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun. Studies have shown that oxybenzone penetrates the skin and is absorbed into the bloodstream. It can instigate allergic reactions, disrupt hormone function, and trigger cell damage that may escalate into cancer.

Science Says…

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently tested 2,517 urine samples from a representative portion of the population and found oxybenzone lurking in 97% of the samples, proof that when applied to large surface areas of the skin it soaks right into the bloodstream! Writing in the journal, the Lancet, researchers concluded:

“It would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time unless no alternative protection is available. There may be an additional concern for young children who have less well-developed processes of elimination and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults, with respect to systemic availability of a topically applied dose.”

As an endocrine disrupter, oxybenzone has also been implicated as a cause of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a painful female reproductive condition that arises when the uterine tissues grown in abnormal regions of the abdomen. Endometriosis feeds off the hormone estrogen. Because oxybenzone mimics the hormone estrogen, it may give rise to endometriosis. A recent study made up of 600 women showed that those with the highest levels of oxybenzone in their urine had a 65% increased risk for endometriosis. These levels coincided with sunscreen use, as the highest concentrations were found during the months of July and August.

Practice Safe Sunscreen

The EWG reports that over 56% of the beach and sport sunscreens on the market contain oxybenzone. The watchdog organization also recommends avoiding sunscreens that contain vitamin A (which has been shown to increase cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin), and to stick with an SPF lower than 50 (after 50 protection plateaus while price goes up). Instead, choose sunscreens made with zinc oxide. For a list of the EWG’s recommended safe sunscreens, click here.