Today, we're diving deep into the world of skincare ingredients, focusing on a common one you've likely seen but might not know much about: avobenzone. This article aims to shed light on what avobenzone is, its history in skincare, and the scientific reasons for its controversial reputation.
The History of Avobenzone in Skincare
Avobenzone, also known as Parsol 1789, was first introduced in the 1970s. It quickly gained popularity due to its ability to absorb a wide range of ultraviolet (UV) light, making it a key ingredient in many sunscreens. However, as time passed and more research was conducted, concerns about its safety began to emerge.
Avobenzone was patented in 1973 and approved for use in the European Union in 1978. It was later approved by the FDA in 1988. Despite its approval, the FDA announced in 2021 that they do not support avobenzone as being generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE), citing the need for additional safety data.
Pure avobenzone is a whitish to yellowish crystalline powder with a weak odor. It is oil-soluble, meaning it dissolves in oils but not in water. This property makes it a suitable ingredient for sunscreen products, which are typically oil-based to provide a water-resistant barrier on the skin.
Avobenzone's ability to absorb ultraviolet light over a wider range of wavelengths than many other sunscreen agents has led to its use in many commercial preparations marketed as "broad spectrum" sunscreens. However, studies have shown avobenzone can degrade significantly in light, resulting in less protection over time. The UVA light in a day of sunlight in a temperate climate is sufficient to break down most of the compound. This degradation can be reduced by using a photostabilizer, like octocrylene.
Despite these concerns, avobenzone remains the only FDA-approved UVA filter (up to 3% concentration). It is also approved in all other jurisdictions, such as the EU (up to 5%), Australia, and Japan. However, recent studies have found that chlorinated water and ultraviolet light can cause avobenzone to disintegrate into various other organic compounds, which can cause adverse health effects.
Avobenzone: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Avobenzone, a petroleum-based sunscreen active ingredient, is not generally recognized as safe and effective (GREASE) by the FDA due to lack of sufficient data to support this claim.
Avobenzone is sensitive to the properties of the solvent, being relatively stable in polar protic solvents and unstable in nonpolar environments. Also, when it is irradiated with UVA light, it generates a triplet excited state in the keto form which can either cause the avobenzone to degrade or it can transfer energy to biological targets and cause deleterious effects.
Avobenzone has been shown to degrade significantly in light, resulting in less protection over time. The UVA light in a day of sunlight in a temperate climate is sufficient to break down most of the compound. Data presented to the Food and Drug Administration by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association indicates a −36% change in avobenzone's UV absorbance following one hour of exposure to sunlight. This degradation can be reduced by using a photostabilizer, like octocrylene.
A recent study at Lomonosov Moscow State University found that chlorinated water and ultraviolet light causes avobenzone to disintegrate into various other organic compounds, including aromatic acids, aldehydes, phenols, and acetophenones which can cause adverse health effects.
Laws and Regulations Surrounding Avobenzone
Despite the concerns surrounding avobenzone sunscreens, it is approved for use in many countries, including the United States, where it's allowed in concentrations up to 3%. However, it's worth noting that some places, like the European Union, have stricter regulations, requiring stabilizers to be added to products containing avobenzone to prevent degradation.
In the United States, the FDA does not currently recognize avobenzone as generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) due to insufficient data. However, it is still the only FDA-approved UVA filter (up to 3% concentration). Avobenzone is also approved in all other jurisdictions, such as the EU (up to 5%), Australia, and Japan.
The FDA has also expressed concerns about the potential for avobenzone to degrade in the presence of sunlight and release harmful free radicals. This has led to requirements for avobenzone-containing products to include photostabilizers, like octocrylene, to prevent degradation.
However, despite these regulations, recent studies have found chlorinated water and ultraviolet light can cause avobenzone to disintegrate into various other organic compounds, which can cause adverse health effects. This has led to increased scrutiny and calls for stricter regulations on the use of avobenzone in skincare products.
The Dark Side of Chemical Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens, such as those containing avobenzone, have been the subject of much debate due to potential health and environmental concerns. Some chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, which have been linked to hormonal disruption and potential damage to marine life, including coral reefs. These concerns have led to the sunscreen ban of oxybenzone-containing sunscreen in many areas such as Hawaii, Palau, and some nature reserves in Mexico.
Moreover, a study carried out in 2017 by the Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment at Masaryk University, Czech Republic, indicated that octyl methoxycinnamate (EHMC), another common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, may damage human cell DNA when exposed to sun rays. This could lead to genome mutations and serious health risks.
In addition to potential health risks, some chemical sunscreens have been criticized for their impact on the environment. Studies show possible links between oxybenzone exposure and mortality in developing coral, coral bleaching, and genetic damage to coral and marine life. However, these studies have been criticized for not having control groups or representing real-world conditions.
The Benefits of Non-Toxic Sunscreens
Non-toxic sunscreens, often referred to as mineral or physical sunscreens, are becoming increasingly popular due to their safety and efficacy. These sunscreens typically use active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin's surface and physically block or reflect harmful UVA and UVB rays.
One of the main benefits of non-toxic sunscreens is that they are generally safer for sensitive skin. They are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions because they use natural minerals rather than chemical ingredients. This makes them a good choice for children, people with sensitive skin, and those who are prone to skin conditions like rosacea or eczema.
Non-toxic sunscreens also offer immediate protection upon application, unlike chemical sunscreens which require about 20 minutes to fully absorb into the skin before they become effective. This means you can apply a non-toxic sunscreen and head straight outside without having to wait.
Another significant benefit of non-toxic sunscreens is their environmental impact. Chemical sunscreens often contain ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been found to harm coral reefs. In contrast, non-toxic non-nano zinc oxide sunscreens are reef-safe, making them a more environmentally friendly choice.
Non-toxic sunscreens are also less likely to interfere with the body's hormones. Some chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that act as endocrine disruptors, potentially leading to a variety of health issues. Non-toxic sunscreens, on the other hand, do not contain these potentially harmful ingredients.
Finally, non-toxic sunscreens are often rich in antioxidants, which can help to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. This can help to prevent premature aging and keep the skin looking youthful and healthy.
Frequently Asked Questions About Avobenzone
To wrap up, let's address some common questions about avobenzone:
What is avobenzone?
Avobenzone is a common ingredient in many sunscreens due to its ability to absorb a wide range of ultraviolet (UV) light. It's a petroleum-based compound that was first introduced in the 1970s.
Is avobenzone safe for my skin?
While avobenzone is approved for use in many countries, there are concerns about its safety. Studies have shown it degrades in sunlight, potentially releasing harmful free radicals. There are also concerns about its potential to disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies.
Does avobenzone harm the environment?
The environmental impact of avobenzone is a subject of ongoing research. Studies suggest that avobenzone can harm marine life, particularly coral reefs. However, more research is needed to fully understand its environmental impact.
What are the alternatives to avobenzone in sunscreens?
Alternatives to avobenzone include physical or mineral sunscreens, which use ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block or reflect UV rays. These sunscreens are considered safer for both human health and the environment.
Why is non-nano zinc oxide safer?
Non-nano zinc oxide is safer because it provides broad-spectrum UV protection without the risk of hormone disruption or environmental harm. It's also less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions, making it a good choice for sensitive skin.
Are there sunscreens without avobenzone?
Yes, there are many sunscreens available that do not contain avobenzone. These typically include mineral sunscreens, which use ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead. Try Waxhead Sunscreens!
How can I identify avobenzone in product ingredients?
Avobenzone may also be listed as butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane on product labels. It's important to read the ingredients list carefully, as some products may use different names for the same ingredient.
What are the side effects of avobenzone?
Potential side effects of avobenzone include skin irritation and allergic reactions. There are also concerns about its potential to disrupt hormones and its environmental impact.
Why do some countries regulate the use of avobenzone?
Some countries regulate the use of avobenzone due to concerns about its safety and environmental impact. For example, the European Union requires stabilizers to be added to products containing avobenzone to prevent degradation.
What other harmful ingredients should I avoid in skincare products?
Other potentially harmful ingredients to avoid in skincare products include oxybenzone, octinoxate, and parabens. These ingredients have been linked to hormone disruption and environmental damage. As always, it's important to read product labels carefully and make informed decisions about the products you use.
Remember, knowledge is power, especially when it comes to protecting your skin and the planet. Always read the ingredients in any skincare product you use, and make informed decisions about what you're putting on your skin.
In conclusion, avobenzone, a common ingredient in many sunscreens, has a complex history and a controversial reputation in skincare. Despite its ability to absorb a wide range of UV light, concerns about its safety and environmental impact have emerged over time. While it is approved for use in many countries, the FDA does not recognize it as generally safe and effective, and there are regulations in place to mitigate its potential degradation.
Alternatives to avobenzone, such as non-toxic sunscreens that use ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, are gaining popularity due to their perceived safety and efficacy. These sunscreens are generally safer for sensitive skin and have less environmental impact. As consumers, it's crucial to be informed about the ingredients in our skincare products and make decisions that protect both our skin and the planet.
Know Your Sunscreen. Trust Your Sunscreen.
Read your sunscreen ingredients, including the “inactive” ones. Research and know each ingredient, then either decide for yourself if it’s reef safe, or better yet, ask us and we’ll give you straightforward guidance, whether it’s for our sunscreen or not. If a sunscreen’s good (or bad) for you and our marine biosystems, we’ll tell you so.
1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.
2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.
3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.