Oxybenzone is one of the main ingredients in chemical-based sunscreens that you find on drug store shelves. This chemical helps block both UVA and UVB rays from the sun thanks to a chemical reaction.
It has become a commonly used ingredient in sunscreen manufacture because it has a lower working temperature than other chemical ingredients. Oxybenzone is naturally produced by certain plants.
Where is oxybenzone used?
Oxybenzone is primarily used in sunscreens to block ultraviolet rays from the sun. It is also used in some other cosmetics and is also used in plastic products to stop ultraviolet rays from starting to break down or discolor the plastic. Examples of this include plastic containers and toys.
Major issues and concerns around oxybenzone
The chemical makeup of oxybenzone makes it adept at blocking harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. However, some studies have shown that it can also cause complications and disruptions in our hormone systems. This is because oxybenzone is known as an endocrine disruptor, and these effects may occur when the oxybenzone is absorbed by our skin when we apply the sunscreen.
Unnatural changes to our hormones can cause an array of complications, such as low energy, a lower sperm count in men and possibly higher estrogen levels in women. In extreme cases, it may even lead to fertility issues.
Oxybenzone has also been shown to have negative impacts on the environment. When the chemical is rinsed into our sewage systems or is released from our skin when we swim in the water, it ends up in the ocean.
Here it can cause damage to our already-vulnerable coral reefs because it contributes to the bleaching of coral. This effectively sterilizes the coral, making it unable to reproduce. While it isn’t the sole cause of coral bleaching, oxybenzone is a contributing factor that could be limited in its impact.
Criticisms and controversies of oxybenzone
While some studies have highlighted these negative effects with oxybenzone, some regulatory authorities still do not consider oxybenzone to be harmful. Evidence has not been completely conclusive, and oxybenzone is still approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dermatologists share the FDA’s assessment on oxybenzone and do not consider the chemical to be conclusively harmful. In some cases, any restrictions on using oxybenzone in sunscreens may create more harm, as some scientist believe that consumers won’t find replacements. This may place them at greater risk of developing skin cancer due to unprotected exposure to UV rays.
Oxybenzone is also not 100% effective at protecting us from ultraviolet exposure. Because it relies on a chemical reaction, oxybenzone can sometimes fall short of actually blocking ultraviolet rays from harming us. Other natural alternatives are much more effective means of protection.
What are the negative impacts of oxybenzone?
In humans, oxybenzone may disrupt our hormone networks, possibly leading to fertility problems. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) claims that 97% of American citizens have oxybenzone coursing through their bloodstream.
Oxybenzone can also have detrimental effects on some of our most vulnerable environments. The chemical can contribute to the bleaching of coral reefs, resulting in sterilization and die-offs. This has wide-ranging effects across the marine ecosystem as coral reefs support a huge variety of life. This could eventually have chaotic effects on marine food chains, including our own.
What’s a better alternative?
There are some alternatives to oxybenzone that are much healthier for both our skin and the environment. These are titanium dioxide, which is a natural oxide that occurs within titanium, and zinc oxide, a synthetic compound that is already used in a wide variety of applications.
These two ingredients physically block ultraviolet rays from penetrating our skin, rather than using a chemical reaction. Zinc oxide in particular is an FDA-sanctioned ingredient and is already being used to make safer sunscreens.