Octinoxate is the most widely used UVB-absorbing agent in sunscreen today, but is it safe? While studies have not shown octinoxate to be quite as toxic as oxybenzone, there are definitely reasons to be wary of this ingredient in your suncare products.
What does octinoxate do?
Octinoxate, also known as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, is a common ingredient in sunscreens, shampoos, lipsticks and other products(1) It serves a number of different functions as an active ingredient in sunscreens. First, it disperses the sun’s UVB rays, which cause burns. Since it is inexpensive, it also serves as a good ingredient to keep the cost of sunscreen low. As a UVB absorber, octinoxate does its job and prevents burns, but it also poses numerous risks to humans as well as the coral reefs. It’s very important for people to understand and weigh these risks before using sunscreens!
What’s wrong with octinoxate?
- How it’s made
Octinoxate shows up in many sunscreens labeled “natural, but it’s not a natural sunscreen! To make it, they mix sulfuric acid with methanol, a petroleum by-product. This mixture is then heated, until it’s insoluble in water.
- What it does on your skin
It is supposed to simply protect your skin from burns, but instead of staying on your skin, it’s readily absorbed.
- Where it goes in your body
Octinoxate has been found in human urine, blood and breast milk.(2)
- What it takes with it
It’s absorbed so easily it can take stowaway chemicals with it. These chemicals may not be absorbed on their own, but octinoxate helps them out so they get into your bloodstream, too.
- What it does when you’re done wearing it
It doesn’t just disappear. Like oxybenzone, octinoxate is toxic to coral reefs. According to a study conducted by Environmental Health Perspectives scientists on coral bleaching, octinoxate “caused complete bleaching [of coral] even at very low concentrations.” Many resorts near coral reefs actually require biodegradable sunscreen. These resorts will not allow specific ingredients in guests’ sunscreen including oxybenzone, octinoxate or parabens.
What are the risks of octinoxate?
So we know octinoxate is absorbed. Is that really a bad thing? Yes!
- The EWG rates octinoxate a six, which is a moderate hazard.
- It can lead to developmental and reproductive toxicity.
- Octinoxate is a hormone disruptor. It can produce estrogen-like effects similar to oxybenzone.
- Hormones affect reproduction in men and women, and trigger the onset of puberty, but did you know insulin is a hormone, and hormones also control your thyroid? Hormones control everything in your body! (3)
Are there alternatives to octinoxate?
Despite the risks, octinoxate remains an approved ingredient worldwide. (4) Unfortunately, octinoxate is often found in “natural” sunscreens. This makes things difficult for consumers, but if you want to avoid this chemical in your sunscreen, we recommend using sunscreens with non nano zinc. These naturally occurring minerals sit on top of your skin and aren’t absorbed into your bloodstream. When you swim in the ocean, these minerals simply fall back to the Earth from which they came. So whether you use a hawaii medicinal sunblock or not, we always recommend checking your sunscreen label for non nano zinc oxide —and only non nano zinc oxide—in the active ingredients!