Why are Benzophenones so Controversial in Sunscreen?

March 15, 2012

benzephenone sunscreen dangers

Benzophenones have long been an ingredient in chemical sunscreens. In fact, they have been used in sunscreens since the 1950′s. This is because they have been proven to block UVA and UVB rays from the sun. Despite their proliferation in sunscreens, benzophenones are controversial because of possible health consequences.

To start with, benzophenones can cause severe allergic reactions in some people. Studies have shown that it is not uncommon to have a photocontact hypersensitivity reaction. This can produce a significant rash and in some cases, hives can also occur. But many sunscreens, especially those with primarily chemical ingredients, carry a risk for an allergic reaction. If that is the only issue, what’s the big deal?

The problem is that it’s not the only issue, and many benzophenones carry additional risks. For example, oxybenzone, one of the most common ingredients found in chemical sunscreens, has been show in several studies conducted by the CDC, to present a possible health risk. In one study, it produced a low birth weight for babies born from mothers who were actively using skin products with oxybenzone in it.

What’s more oxybenzone may be responsible for hormone disruption and cell damage. As it is a chemical sunscreen, it is absorbed into the skin and can enter the bloodstream. Even if our bodies effectively metabolize most of the oxybenzone that enters the body (excreting it through the urine thereafter), there is still an inherent risk, especially if you use the sunscreen frequently.

Natural sunscreens, like zinc sunscreen stay on the surface of your skin and do not penetrate further. They do not enter the bloodstream and after you are done using them you wash them off entirely. You cannot wash off oxybenzone if it has already penetrated your skin and entered your bloodstream.

While oxybenzone is still used in many sunscreens, there are many nonprofit and even government organizations that have recommended caution. The Environmental Working Group for example recommends physical sunscreens that do not penetrate the skin. The CDC cautions against using sunscreens with oxybenzone (they have conducted several studies on the substance themselves). And while the FDA has not released an official ruling, it seems safe to say that there are plenty of much better sunscreen options that are proven to be effective while also not posing a health risk.

What’s your take? Are you a regular sunscreen user and do you use sunscreens with benzophenones in them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/knittycent/3618231612

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