Is Your Sunscreen Safe? Find Out Why Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, and Other Chemical Active Ingredients Shouldn't be in Your Sunscreen

Amanda Herzberg

The chemical additive known as oxybenzone, used as a product stabilizer and UV protectant in many sunscreen and skin care products, may be gradually bleaching and killing the world’s coral reefs. Which may (and probably should) leave you wondering: is your sunscreen safe?

How to Read the Label

Not all sunscreens are created equal, which of course is why there are so many to choose from--something you may be familiar with after spending any amount of time near a sunscreen aisle or online attempting to make the best decision for your skin safety. The front of every tube seems to have its own defining factors, but what you really should be looking at is the ingredient panel. It may seem intimidating at first glance, but it’s totally worth knowing what’s in your sunscreen products.

Many sunscreens feature active ingredients oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, and octinoxate—or some combination of those chemicals. What are active ingredients? Good question. The active ingredients are the ingredients in a product that are biologically active. Essentially, these are the ingredients doing most of the work. In the case of sunscreen, the active ingredients are those that actually keep you safe from the sun. However, not all active ingredients are created equal either. Some of the chemical ingredients, most notably oxybenzone, have been shown to damage the ecosystem, and appear as toxins in the blood. Rather, what you should look for in an ingredient panel are mineral active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, or both.

Why is Oxybenzone Considered Toxic? 

The purpose of oxybenzone in sunscreen is to absorb the UV radiation produced by the sun before it has the opportunity to damage your skin. It can slow the effects of sun exposure, like dark spot formation, and minimizes the risk of sunburn. Sounds good, if not for the disturbing scientific discoveries that were made public in 2015.  Results of extensive environmental research published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology revealed that oxybenzone in the ocean is a major contributor to widespread coral bleaching. This chemical is wreaking havoc on the undersea environment and accelerating damage that was already resulting in coral destruction. As little as a teaspoon of oxybenzone-containing sunscreen can cause coral bleaching. This is just a fraction of the amount of sunscreen needed to cover the body before sun exposure—not to mention reapplying—so the impact is truly massive.

Aside from the environmental repercussions, some scientific evidence would indicate that oxybenzone stays in the body as a toxin, and may lead to hormone disruption in both men and women. So it doesn’t have the best reputation in the safety department. And the other chemical active ingredients? Also suspected hormone disruptors and/or skin allergens.

There’s Still Hope: 3 Tips for Choosing a Sunscreen

After all of this talk of chemicals and toxins, there are still good options out there. Just keep these few things in mind:

  1. Stick to sunscreens with mineral active ingredients (usually zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, if not both)
  2. Make sure the formula provides broad-spectrum protection. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays, both of which are damaging in their own way
  3. Choose mineral. Keep the environment in mind by choosing a sunscreen that is reef friendly and biodegradable.

Sunology is an Alternative Sunscreen Without Chemical Active Ingredients

At Sunology, we’re committed to making sunscreen that is as gentle as it is effective, and to keeping the reefs protected from devastating chemical toxins. Mineral sunscreens like Sunology with non chemical active ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide shield the skin from UV radiation by deflecting, rather than absorbing, the sun’s rays—effectively eliminating the need for UV absorbing chemicals like oxybenzone. Our unique formula is infused with a concentrated blend of essential oils and provides SPF 50 broad-spectrum protection, so your skin gets a little nourishing treat as it’s protected.

When it comes to safe sunscreen, there’s always more to learn. So let us know if you have any questions, or visit any of our many info pages to find out more.

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