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Is Octisalate Safe in Sunscreen?

It feels like there’s a new article about sunscreen every few weeks. If you’re like us and trying to cut down our exposure to toxic chemicals and on a journey to a more sustainable life, let’s talk about another chemical often found in common chemical sunscreens called Octisalate.

You’re probably wondering if octisalate safe in sunscreens? Let’s breakdown this answer through these three areas:

  • What is octisalate?
  • Risks of octisalate exposure.
  • Is octisalate safe in sunscreens?


What is Octisalate

Octisalate is an oil soluble, colorless, chemical sunscreen ingredient used to supplement the absorption of UVB rays — it does not protect against UVA. It is often added to chemicals sunscreens to reduce photodegradation of other ingredients (such as oxybenzone and avobenzone). Octisalate also helps sunscreen adhere to the skin, even during swimming.

Octisalate, also known as ethylhexyl salicylate, is an organic compound used in many sunscreens and skincare products as an active ingredient. It is primarily used as a chemical UV filter to absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, protecting the skin from harmful UV rays.

Other names for octisalate found on sunscreen labels: ethylhexyl salicylate, octyl salicylate, 2-ethylhexyl salicylate and/or ethyl hexyl salicylate.


Risks of Octisalate Exposure

Octisalate will likely cause a skin sensitivity or rash for children/babies and people with sensitive skin. Studies have shown some chemical sunscreen ingredients are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, including octisalate. And although scientists are not sure if this is something to worry about, we don’t want sunscreen chemicals in our (or children’s) bloodstream.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) says octisalate is “suspected to be an environmental toxin” and categorizes as a moderate allergy risk. Sunscreens containing octisalate are not reef safe and may contribute to coral bleaching.


Is Octisalate Safe?

Although the FDA has approved octisalate for a maximum concentration of 5% in sunscreens and skincare products, the risks outweigh the benefits. When you can use effective sunscreens without octisalate, why would you buy chemical sunscreens with a potentially harmful ingredient?

If you want to avoid octisalate, read the ingredient list on your sunscreen labels. In the active ingredient area, you may see octisalate, ethylhexyl salicylate or octyl salicylate.

Instead look for an active sunscreen ingredient of non-nano zinc oxide.


Is Octisalate Safe for Children?

When used as directed and in appropriate concentrations in sunscreen products, octisalate is generally considered safe for most people, including children. It has been approved by regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Commission for use in sunscreens.

However, some individuals may have specific sensitivities or allergies to certain sunscreen ingredients, including octisalate. In some cases, it can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. Therefore, before using any sunscreen product containing octisalate or any other active ingredient, it is essential to perform a patch test on a small area of the skin and observe for any adverse reactions.

For children, it's particularly important to choose sunscreens specifically labeled as safe for children or formulated for sensitive skin. Additionally, it is recommended to consult with a pediatrician or dermatologist to ensure that the chosen sunscreen product is suitable for your child's skin type and age.

As with any product applied to the skin, it's crucial to follow the usage instructions provided by the manufacturer and apply sunscreen as needed, especially when spending time outdoors to protect against sunburn and potential long-term damage from UV exposure.

We recommend choosing a sunscreen with an active ingredient of non-nano zinc oxide.


Is Octisalate Safe for Reefs?

Octisalate, like many chemical UV filters used in sunscreen products, can impact coral reefs and marine ecosystems when it enters the water. Studies have shown that certain chemical UV filters, including octisalate, can contribute to coral bleaching and harm coral reef ecosystems.

When people swim in the ocean or other water bodies after applying sunscreen containing octisalate, some sunscreen can wash off and enter the water. Once in the water, these chemicals can accumulate and adversely affect coral reefs and marine life. Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to the impact of chemical sunscreen ingredients, as they can disrupt the symbiotic relationship between corals and algae, leading to coral bleaching and decreased coral health.

To address the environmental concerns associated with chemical sunscreens, some regions, particularly those with coral reefs, have implemented bans or restrictions on using certain chemical UV filters, including octisalate. Instead, they encourage using reef-safe sunscreens that use physical UV filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are generally considered safer for the environment.

If you plan to visit a location with coral reefs or marine environments, it's important to choose sunscreens labeled as "reef-safe" or "ocean-friendly." These sunscreens do not contain harmful chemical UV filters and are designed to have minimal impact on coral reefs and marine life. Please read the ingredients to make sure the sunscreens are truly reef safe.

Protecting coral reefs and marine ecosystems is vital for the health of our oceans, so using reef-safe sunscreens and adopting other environmentally responsible practices can help preserve these delicate and valuable ecosystems.


Alternatives to Octisalate

A few safe alternatives to octisalate are used as UV filters in sunscreen formulations. Physical (Mineral) UV Filters:

Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is a widely used mineral UV filter that provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It works by reflecting and scattering the UV radiation away from the skin. Zinc oxide is generally considered safe for reefs and the environment.

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide is another mineral UV filter that offers broad-spectrum protection. Like zinc oxide, it forms a protective barrier on the skin's surface and reflects UV rays.

When choosing a sunscreen, it's essential to look for products labeled as "broad-spectrum" to ensure they protect against UVA and UVB rays. If you are concerned about the impact on coral reefs and the environment, opt for sunscreens labeled as "reef-safe" or "ocean-friendly," which typically contain physical UV filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Remember, individual sensitivities to sunscreen ingredients can vary, so always perform a patch test before using a new sunscreen product, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergies.



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.


Use Non-Octisalate Sunscreen



Is octisalate safe in sunscreens?

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