PABA in Sunscreen – What’s the Deal? Dangerous or not?

January 26, 2012

paba sunscreen danger

PABA is one of those dreaded sunscreen words. Most people don’t know what PABA is or are, yet they know (or think) that it’s something bad. Perhaps it is the proliferation of PABA-free sunscreens that has caused this. There is indeed a reason to be concerned about PABA. We will take a look at it in this post.

What is PABA?

Contrary to popular belief, PABA is actually a natural substance. The acronym breaks down to para-aminobenzoic acid, but it is also known as 4-aminobenzoic acid. In addition to its presence in sunscreens, PABA may also be found naturally in certain food products, such as brewer’s yeast, mushrooms and molasses. In some cases, it is referred to as a variety of B vitamin, but it is not technically a vitamin.

Why is PABA found in sunscreens?

PABA is an ingredient in some sunscreens because it has been shown to be effective in blocking out the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. When applied topically, PABA works by absorbing the sun’s rays. This works differently from sunscreens which use zinc, for example. For more on the difference, check out our article on natural vs. chemical sunscreens.

Why is PABA controversial?

There are several reasons why PABA is controversial and why you will now see that most sunscreens advertise that they are PABA-free. The first reason is that a significant number of people experience various allergic reactions to this substance. This could range from red, blotchy skin to blisters to even a burning sensation. Obviously, you don’t want to put anything on your skin if it’s going to cause these problems.

What’s more troubling, however, is that PABA, topically applied as a sunscreen, may cause cellular damage. This is part of a process that would involve frequent use of a sunscreen containing this substance, but nonetheless it is troubling. While it may be unlikely that you have a skin allergy to PABA, the issue of cellular damage is one that no one is immune from.

The good news is that there are plenty of sunscreens that are indeed PABA-free. In fact, there are many sunscreens that do not contain any harmful chemicals whatsoever. As an example, we referenced an all natural sunscreen in our article on the best face sunscreen that does not contain PABA or any of the harmful benzophones, which we will be addressing in a future article.

If you have any thoughts on PABA, please share them in the comments below.

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