The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can You Find a Good Sunscreen Without Oxybenzone?

Oxybenzone (aka BP-3) is found in many effective sunscreens, but it is a suspected hormone disruptor. Are there sunscreens without it?

In the last few years, alert consumers have sought sunscreens that do not contain endocrine disruptors. Sometimes, this can be quite a challenge. Two consumer organizations have recently issued their recommendations for 2018, but their lists are very different. One took this concern into account and the other did not. Some readers have have asked about sunscreen without oxybenzone.

Looking for Sunscreen with No Hormone Disruptors:

Q. In the Consumer Reports ratings on sunscreen, most of the top ranked lotions contain oxybenzone (a.k.a. benzophenone-3 or BP-3). You have warned previously about the possible hormone-disrupting or endocrine-disrupting effects of this chemical in many articles. What are we to do?

A. You are right that many of Consumer Reports’ (CR) top rated sunscreens contain oxybenzone. Nevertheless, the organization acknowledges that the chemical contributes to coral bleaching. CR also notes that Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing ozybenzone starting in 2021.

EWG Rating Sunscreens:

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit organization promoting human health with attention to environmental effects.

It warns that oxybenzone

“is a toxic chemical that is harmful to our health and our planet. It’s linked to hormone disruption and allergic skin reactions in people, as well as the bleaching of coral reefs and coral death.”

That’s why the organization is campaigning to have oxybenzone removed from sunscreens. EWG found it in a majority of the products they reviewed this year, but they also found more than 200 products that do not contain BP-3. You can check the list at EWG.org.

Common Sense for Sun Exposure:

Don’t forget that common sense can go a long way to preventing a burn. Try to schedule outdoor activities early or late rather than between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun may be most intense. A hat and sunglasses are essential gear, along with long sleeves when they are practical. Don’t be lulled into complacency by an overcast sky. You can burn even when the sun is not casting a shadow.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I would add a reminder to this story and the comments. Because there are two quite different sunscreen lists, EWG and Consumer Reports, one can take the best from each. CR focused on blocking harmful UVA and UVB sun rays to prevent burns, while EWG focused on safe ingredients. What I took from CR was that far too many sunscreens do not perform as advertised.

Some which claim to be high SPF were in fact barely effective at all. Therefore, any near the bottom of CR’s ratings, no matter the ingredient list, I eliminated from my consideration. Then I examined the EWG list and compared it to the CR list. I was able to find some reasonably effective sunscreens that passed muster on both lists and did not contain oxybenzone.

This personal research task took me considerable time and effort going through them all, cross referencing ingredients, etc. It should not be this hard! Both organizations have our best interests at heart, but approach their ratings from different angles, so confusion is inevitable.

I found that some sunscreen for Babies does not have the harmful ingredient in it.

Can you please give a short list of only the products that do not contain the problematic organic chemicals?

Consumer Reports has a really miserable search tool on their review that doesn’t make it easy to narrow down from their long list.

It is very confusing to see two respected organizations have two very different lists of approved and effective sunscreens. Personally, since I live in Florida and care about the potential damages done to corals and other aquatic life, not to mention my own health, I chose to not buy or use products that contain oxybenzone.

Fortunately, some decently effective sunscreens, including some Consumer Reports find effective, are free of the chemical. I have been a subscriber to CR for over 30 years and usually respect their test standards. But in the case of sunscreens, feel let down by their lists and have written to them about it.

There are non toxic brands like Pure Haven that offer good protection without the chemicals.

Sunscreen. Oxybenzone has not shown prevention of skin cancer (well a few kind of low grade cancers) – this is old drug. Para-amino-benzoic acid(PABA) did prevent cancer but had allergies and was taken off the market as a big mistake – 90%, not allergic and not able to prevent cancer. Chalk up one for cancer.

A recent article on the downsides of oxybenzone:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29086472

Don’t forget there are plenty of natural, non-chemical sunscreens on the market now at most stores. I use Goddess Garden. That one is even water resistant up to 40 minutes.

A note should be added that EWG has found that sunscreens containing Vitamin A (retinyl) cause skin cancers as well.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and an excellent absorber of toxins into our systems. If you can’t eat something then you probably shouldn’t be putting it on your body. Virgin Coconut oil offers some SPF protection and is a great skin moisturizer and completely safe to use.

Sun exposure and sunscreen use is one of the areas with the worst science ever, backing various opinions. Anecdotally, growing up in the 60’s, skin cancer was not mentioned a lot, and no one wore sunscreen, and no one told you to limit sun exposure. Both my grandmothers, who lived to their late 80’s, grew up on farms and worked in the fields. One even retired to Florida. Neither had skin cancer or skin issues. Now we have turned into a society that works mostly indoors; kids don’t play outside; and for some reason skin cancer rates seem to be rising, despite all the warnings. I once joked that skin cancer rates seem to be rising at the same rate of sunscreen use.

There may be some truth to it, after all. Your skin is an organ and absorbs most of what you put on it. I work outside, but will never use sunscreen. If I followed recommendations, I would be slathering dubious chemicals over my skin 300 days a year, twice a day. That would be ridiculous. Also, consider the many health benefits of adequate vitamin D. At 60 years old, I am still a believer in “moderation in all things.”

10-2 as hours of highest sun is odd given that most of the country observes Summer, which moves solar noon to 1pm. Shouldn’t this be adjusted according — call it 10-3??

I too am using red yeast rice but was told to take COQ10 with it. Correct? Thanks for your newsletter.

The environment has degraded considerably since the 1960s, with the thinning of the ozone layer. Not using sunscreen is deliberately deliberately putting oneself at risk, more so, depending on certain hereditary factors. That’s a choice anyone can make. But advocating it for others? No.

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