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How Dangerous Is Oxybenzone?
BY Reef Repair | October 25, 2019

Is Oxybenzone Dangerous To Humans?


Oxybenzone is a dangerous petro-chemical found in 70% of sunscreens, it can enter your bloodstream after application causing severe health concerns in adults and children. It is extremely important to not expose infants, toddlers and unborn babies to Oxybenzone!

Oxybenzone is a petroleum-based chemical that is used in over 70% of sunscreens sold in the world today. It is used primarily to absorb UVB light from our sun, thereby preventing sun damage to your skin, but there is a problem.

Plausibility: Oxybenzone might not be “as safe” as the sunscreen mafia industry has been telling us.

In fact, Oxybenzone isn’t just exceptionally poisonous to coral reefs [2], it is almost indisputably dangerous to human beings, especially pregnant mothers, infants, neonates (newborn children under 4 weeks of age) and unborn babies (fetuses) [3].

Kid Safe Child Safe Reef Safe Skin Safe All Natural SPF 50 Sunscreen For Children By Reef Repair Sun Care 120ml
Kid Safe Child Safe Reef Safe Skin Safe All Natural SPF 50 Sunscreen For Children By Reef Repair Sun Care 120ml

So let us delve into the problems with, and the dangers of Oxybenzone!

A Brief History Of Oxybenzone

If you are you wondering where Oxybenzone comes from, here is brief history of the chemical. Oxybenzone is a non-natural chemical first synthesized in 1906 from Benzene (petro-chemical). Benzene is found in crude oils and is a by-product of the oil-refining process [4]. Great, but why is it in my sunblock you might ask?

It was first formulated into cosmetics in the 1950’s and was later approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) in the 1980’s for use in consumer cosmetics and sunscreens. Oxybenzone was found to absorb some potentially damaging UV light in the UVB (260–320 nm) spectrum, thus helping prevent skin damage like sunburns, and potentially prevent deeper UV radiation penetration which can cause irreversible DNA damage and skin-cancer.

Reef Repair UV Spectrum Poster
Reef Repair UV Spectrum Poster

It was hailed as a very important achievement in the preventative war on skin cancer and became widely distributed in sunscreen products. As stated earlier, you can find it in over 70% of sunscreens sold in the USA today [1].

In 2013 the use of Oxybenzone in cosmetics was capped at 6% of the total ingredient volume by the USFDA due to growing safety concerns. It has remained at this level since 2013[5], but is now under USFDA review due to mounting evidence of toxicity towards coral reefs.

In 2019 the USFDA stated that it needs more safety information for the following active sunscreen ingredients (cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, avobenzone) [19].

Chemicals Can Be a Double Edged Sword

Every day we are faced with choices as to what to eat, what to put on our skin and what to buy. We generally assume that if the USFDA has approved a chemical ingredient for use, then it is safe for us to buy and use. We truly rely on government bodies to protect us from potentially harmful chemicals that industry may wish to use, but this doesn’t always work out correctly.

To illustrate the above, here is a video from the 1940s where school children are being sprayed with DDT (An extremely toxic pesticide) at a local swimming pool. This was to emphasize and/or illustrate how safe the chemical was “thought to be” for human beings.

DDT Spraying on childrenDDT Spraying on children

In 1972 DDT was finally banned due to severe and horrible effects on people and the environment. Especially pregnant mothers, newborns (birth defects) and in particular, young girls who when found to have been exposed to DDT before puberty were 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer [6] than those who had not been.

The point here is that DDT was hailed as a scientific breakthrough and revolutionary way of preventing malaria and protecting crops. It turned out to be both extremely environmentally toxic and devastatingly toxic to humans and developing fetuses. DDT should never have been approved for use in the global agricultural industry and many people paid a steep price for that mistake.

Remember the above scenes as we delve into Oxybenzone use in cosmetics today.

Short List Of Oxybenzone Dangers

It is extremely likely that we do not fully understand all the dangers that Oxybenzone currently poses to human beings or the environment. We are starting to understand how toxic Oxybenzone is to delicate parts of our ocean ecosystem like Coral Reefs [2], but lets focus on dangers to us. Here is a shortlist of what Oxybenzone exposure is currently linked to.

Above is everything you, your children and potentially your unborn infant are gambling with receiving if you continue to use products containing Oxybenzone. Once it enters your bloodstream, after application [7], you are very likely risking severe and potentially life long health implications.

Also take note that our bodies can not naturally dispose of Oxybenzone. In men it bio-accumulates forever and women can remove some by having a child and/or breastfeeding. Because a significant portion of Oxybenzone found in a mothers bloodstream will pass from mother to baby during pregnancy or feeding [17].

Oxybenzone & Endocrine Disruption

The word endocrine simply refers to human glands that secrete hormones or other products directly into our bloodstream. Oxybenzone is thought to disrupt hormones and affect hormone production in humans [9]. This is bad news because we need our hormones to be in balance for a healthy lifestyle. Disruption of hormones in children and infants as they develop is far worse.

Here is a brief list of issues that EDC disruption (hormone/endocrine disruption) can cause, or is currently linked to.

Obesity, diabetes, female reproduction issues, male reproduction issues, hormone-sensitive cancers in females, prostate cancer in males, thyroid abnormalities, and neurodevelopment and neuroendocrine systems being affected by being exposed to EDC’s Wikipedia

We can not say for certain that Oxybenzone on its own causes the conditions above, though more and more studies are showing that Oxybenzone is almost certainly a strong Endocrine Disruptor [9]. You can find out more via this study: Oxybenzone responsible for Androngenic & Estrogenic hormone disruption.

Oxybenzone & Hirschsprung’s Disease

Another recent study has strongly cited Oxybenzone as the culprit behind the development of a potentially life-threatening illness called Hirschsprung’s Disease, which affects newborn children [3].

Hirschsprung’s Disease in short is:

… a condition that affects the large intestine (colon) and causes problems with passing stool. The condition is present at birth (congenital) as a result of missing nerve cells in the muscles of the baby’s colon… Children who have Hirschsprung’s disease are prone to a serious intestinal infection called enterocolitis. Enterocolitis can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment.

Essentially it means your baby or child can’t poop (go number 2), this can even manifest in adults later in life. It obviously leads to other serious complications and we suggest you “Google it“, because it’s horrible, and we don’t want to dive into the particulars of Hirschsprung’s Disease in this article.

Suffice to say you do not want it, and you certainly do not want your children or newborn baby to have it!

Oxybenzone & Lowered Testosterone Levels

We very much doubt that any man reading this is wondering how to significantly decrease his Testosterone levels. Though if you are and you do want to drastically lower your Testosterone, then maybe Oxybenzone based sunscreens are for you!

One human study coapplying 3 sunscreen active ingredients (oxybenzone, 4-MBC, and octinoxate) suggested a minor, intermittent, but statistically significant drop in testosterone levels in men during a one-week application period.

Essentially the most damning part of that study is that it took just one week of daily application to significantly lower testosterone levels in male subjects engaging in the experiment. If you are a guy reading this, have a think about how often you have applied chemical sunscreen in your life, or even just this month? Studies like this one are fairly clear that Oxybenzone is very good at lowering male testosterone levels [11].

Some of you out there may be thinking that Oxybenzone is the perfect way to cure “toxic male masculinity”, but male hormone disruption is no laughing matter. Lowered testosterone levels in men are strongly linked to erectile dysfunction, obesity, and depression. Leading in many cases too far worse behavior than your typical testosterone-filled beach bums or gym junkies.

Testosterone is important for the healthy develop of boys into men
Testosterone is important for the healthy develop of boys into men

Simply put, men need normal levels of testosterone to be happy and healthy [12], we certainly don’t want them accidentally chemically castrating themselves through sunscreen use!

Oxybenzone & Cancer

Now for the big one, the word that scares pretty much every single human being on this planet, f’ing Cancer.

Photo Credit:

As a manufacturer in the sunscreen industry we are trying to produce all-natural, human safe products to help protect you and your loved ones from cancers caused by our sun. So we find it infuriating to see newly released information linking synthetic chemical sunscreen (Oxybenzone based sunscreens) use and labelling to increasing rates of skin cancer around the world. Why are skin cancer rates not going down, if we have sunscreen to protect us?

To understand this phenomenon better you need to clearly understand how Oxybenzone and UV light from the sun interact. Hold on it’s going to get a bit sciency (sorry-not-sorry).

  • Oxybenzone / Octinoxate are synthetic chemical UV Filters which absorbs UV light (radiation), in the UVB spectrum (single-spectrum).
  • Zinc Oxide is a natural mineral UV Filter which reflects UV light (radiation), across both the UVA / UVB spectrum (broad-spectrum).

To understand why UVA / UVB broad-spectrum protection is so important in sunscreen we created this useful infographic showing the significant dangers of the UV spectrum.

UVB vs UVA the effects of too much sun exposure from normal UV radiation
UVB vs UVA the effects of too much sun exposure from normal UV radiation

Broad-spectrum UVA/UVB filters like Zinc Oxide can protect you from dangerous and potentially fatal cancers, whilst UVB only filters like Oxybenzone do not protect you anywhere near as well. In-essence protecting oneself against UVA is possibly and probably better than protecting oneself against UVB. Though essentially you want and need protection against both in your sunscreen. Now for the wild bit…

Did You Know:

SPF Ratings only indicate protection levels against UVB radiation?

This means that shockingly your SPF 1000+ sunscreen might be very good at protecting you from sunburn (UVB radiation), but also potentially have little to no protection against UVA radiation, it all depends on the active ingredients present in your sunblock. There is currently only one USFDA approved chemical active ingredient for sunscreens (Avobenzone) with effective UVA protection properties. Avobenzone is nearly chemically identical to Oxybenzone and is also currently being linked to all the same health issues we mentioned previously, such as hormone disruption.

Reef Repair UV Ingredients Spectrum Poster
Reef Repair UV Ingredients Spectrum Poster

The real issue here though is that almost all consumers or users of sunscreen believe that the higher the SPF rating, the better or the more sun protection you are getting, right?

Frustratingly this belief has been proven to be wrong, as higher SPF ratings do not necessarily mean better sun protection [18].

High SPF ratings can lull you into a false sense of security. Potentially leading you to spending longer in the sun than you should or safely can. This then leads to more DNA and skin damage via excessive unprotected UVA exposure. Which can inevitably lead to skin cancers and Melanomas. Remember that you can’t see the dangerous UVA rays hitting your skin or the damage they do until it’s too late!

This misleading approach to sun safety labelling by the sun cream industry has led governments around the world to cap SPF ratings on sunscreens to SPF 50 [18].

Simply put skin cancer is on the rise globally and many studies are linking this to the fact that many of us are not as protected as we may think when buying over inflated SPF rated sunscreens and other sun care products!

To check UVA ratings on sunscreen and sun creams, you need to look for PA rating.

  • PA+ = Some UVA protection.
  • PA++ = Moderate UVA protection.
  • PA+++ = High UVA protection.
  • PA++++ = Extremely High UVA protection.

Oxybenzone And The USFDA

Here is some good news concerning Oxybenzone’s safety concerns for human use. The USFDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has currently labelled chemicals like Oxybenzone and Octinoxate as “unsafe” [15]. Though the USFDA has currently not recommended recalling sun care products containing Oxybenzone, because…

The benefits of using sunscreen, even those containing Oxybenzone and Octinoxate … currently outweigh the risks associated with not using them.

What that means in simple terms is: The USFDA was worried that if they recalled Oxybenzone and Octinoxate based sun care products, that skin cancer rates might go up even further due to a lower availability of sunscreen on retail shelves. Remember that over 70% of sunscreens sold in the USA contain Oxybenzone [1].

Essentially it’s a rock and a hard place for the USFDA. On one side of the fence, the science is now supporting just how dangerous Oxybenzone is to human beings. Yet on the other side, if they were to recall chemical sunscreens from public use, they potentially help expose consumers to further DNA damage and cancers caused by unprotected sun exposure.

All sunburn is bad for you!
All sunburn is bad for you!

It’s a complicated issue. Yes SPF ratings are bad at telling you if you are protected against DNA damage and cancers. Yes, Oxybenzone is likely dangerous and toxic to you and your children. But if you don’t use sunscreens, you might be exposing yourself to far worse health issues like skin cancers.

So what the heck do we do as consumers of sunscreens. How do we as human beings protect ourselves fully from the dangers of Oxybenzone and at the same time protect ourselves from increased risks of skin cancer and DNA damage from sun exposure?

Zinc Oxide Based Sunscreens

Thankfully the USFDA has also stated that currently there are two approved and very safe mineral active ingredients for sun protection at our disposal for use in cosmetics [19], both are determined to be safe for human use. Those being Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide in their non-nano forms [16].

Reef Safe Sunscreen, 50ml, SPF 50 (2 pack)
  • Type: Sunscreen
  • SPF: 50
  • Water Resistant: 80 Min
  • UVA:
  • UVA II:
  • UVB:
  • Reef Safe:
  • Moisturizing:
  • Recyclable:
  • Baby Safe:
  • Kid Safe:
  • Non Oily:
  • Natural: 100%

Zinc Oxide cosmetics for topical use are already very widespread, Zinc Oxide also offers excellent UVA and UVB protection and is generally recognized as safe by governmental bodies and agencies that deal with ingredient safety around the world, including the USFDA. Zinc Oxide also has less than 0.01% skin penetration in human studies, meaning it does not absorb into your bloodstream like Oxybenzone does, and shows no evidence of hormone disruption.

Zinc Oxide in its non-nano form also sports a near-zero danger risk if accidentally inhaled in powder form [16], meaning no concerns from small particulates entering your lungs if your sunscreen is using non nano zinc oxide.

Titanium Dioxide Vs Zinc Oxide UV Protection Graph
Titanium Dioxide Vs Zinc Oxide UV Protection Graph

So now you know that Zinc Oxide sunscreen offers strong, safe and natural broad-spectrum sun protection. There is really no reason left not to make the jump from chemical sun creams to Zinc Oxide based sunscreens!

Summing Up The Dangers

If we haven’t fully convinced you by now about the human dangers of using Oxybenzone and other synthetic sunscreen chemicals, it’s unlikely we ever will. Though hopefully you are now slightly more wary of misleading sunscreen labeling and aware of toxic active ingredients.

If you want to risk your own health by using sunscreens containing Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, you can, there are no sunscreen police running around inspecting bottles of sunblock for Oxybenzone whilst you are at the beach.

Actually that is not entirely true. There are sunscreen police now operating in Florida, Belize, The Maldives, The Great Barrier Reef, Palau, The U.S Virgin Islands, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand [20] and Hawaii, to help protect their coral reefs from dangerous ocean biotoxicity caused by Oxybenzone and other chemicals like it being deposited by sun seeking visitors.

Healthy Coral vs Bleached Coral. Effects Of Sun Cream With Oxybenzone
Healthy Coral vs Bleached Coral. Effects Of Sun Cream With Oxybenzone

Reef Repair strongly recommends that if you are a mom, a dad, a human being, or especially if pregnant, that you use only mineral-based sunscreens on your little ones. Your children shouldn’t have to be exposed to dangerous hormone-disrupting chemicals like we are back in the 1940’s.

Please stay safe in the sun and thanks for taking the time to read this exhaustingly long article about the dangers of Oxybenzone use in cosmetics!

Reef Repair is an independentand 100% natural sunscreen manufacturer. The opinions outlined in this article are those solely of and the author.

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