Oxybenzone, also called benzophenone-3 or BP-3, is the most common active ingredient in traditional chemical sunscreens.
What you need to know:
- Oxybenzone weakens coral’s ecological resilience to climate events, leading to wide spread coral bleaching.
- Reduces the coral’s ability to reproduce.
- ONE SINGLE DROP of oxybenzone can contaminate an aquatic area the size of six-and-a-half Olympic swimming pools.
- UV exposure exacerbates the negative effects of oxybenzone.
- Products labeled “Natural” may still use oxybenzone as an ingredient.
- Oxybenzone is toxic to both marine ecosystems and to humans who are regularly exposed to the ingredient through personal care products.
- Oxybenzone is an active ingredient found in sunscreen, chapstick, anti-aging creams, face moisturizers, and many other personal care products.
- Just like the adverse effect it has on coral, Oxybenzone messes with our human DNA.
- While over 96% of Americans over 6-years-old are contaminated with oxybenzone, women are 3.5 times more likely to have high concentrations of the contaminate in their body.
Did you know, up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in our oceans each year. 65-80% of that sunscreen uses Oxybenzone as the active sun-blocking ingredient. Oxybenzone absorbs UVB and short-wave UVA rays to protect against sunburn. It’s also rated 8 out of 10 on the EWG hazard score system.
This high hazard rating from EWG is largely due to studies showing oxybenzone’s ability to disrupt hormones in both males and females. Topical applications of the ingredient have been shown to absorb through the skin and transfer into breast milk, creating an additional risk to nursing babies. Oxybenzone has also been shown to alter sperm production, and decrease testosterone in adolescent boys.
Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant. This means that all negative effects of the ingredient are exacerbated with UV exposure. - this would be ironic if the adverse effects weren’t so scary.
Along with the direct washing of oxybenzone from our skin to the water while surfing, swimming, or simply enjoying the sun by the ocean - marine environments get heavy exposure to these compounds through the outfalls of wastewater facilities. A 2005 study specifically focused on this at California’s largest Southern municipal water treatment facilities - LA, Orange County, and San Diego. It identified oxybenzone as unequivocally the main source of estrogenic compounds found in surface waters and sediment. Male California Halibut were subjected to passive exposure through water sediment and were found in all three locations to have a large amount of estrogen in their blood after only 7 days of exposure.
An additional layer to the waste management and release of contaminated waters comes with the treatment solution. Facilities such as those in LA county have been known to use high doses of chlorinated organics to treat water. The chlorinated organics are then released with the treated water into marine environments, where they contaminate fish populations leaving them ill and tainted as a food source.
So why expose yourself and your family to this toxic ingredient? Oxybenzone became widely used in personal care products due to it’s lower cost and ability to rub in clear and dry. Mineral sunscreens, shown to have little to no adverse environmental effects, were previously only widely used by avid surfers and lifeguards, leaving them with their iconic white noses. Great strides have been made by a few natural skincare producers. Zinc based protecters are now available in a range of applicators - from creams, to sprays and butter sticks. While mineral ‘screens with Zinc as an active ingredient will sit on top of the skin instead of soaking in like traditional oxybenzone creams, formulas have been refined to give a mostly clear appearance with very little haze on the skin. Mineral sunscreens are an all around better choice for our bodies and our oceans.