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Is Octocrylene a safe sunscreen?

LisePunch asks...Why is Octocrylene being targeted as being dangerous? I am hearing all kinds of conflicting info about chemical sunblocks.

The Left Brain responds:

After this question on Octocrylene came up in our Forum I decided to dig a little deeper to find out if this controversy is really fact or just another beauty myth. Here’s what I found…

Crying over Octocrylene

To begin, it’s helpful to understand why we need Octocrylene in the first place. Does it do anything different from all the other sunscreens we have? The answer is yes: it provides improved sun protection. Although by itself Octocrylene isn’t a very good sunscreen, it can protect other UV absorbers from breaking down and it can even boost their performance. It also helps them coat the skin better. So Octocrylene is a great tool for boosting sunscreen efficacy.

As with all sunscreens it has been thoroughly tested before it was approved. In the US, Octocrylene has been evaluated by the FDA and is considered safe for use up to 10% in the formula. Similarly, the EU allows its use up to 10% in a formula while Health Canada allows a maximum use level of 12%. With three independent approvals this looks pretty safe, so why the controversy? There are two reasons.

Potential irritant

There are a number of reports in the literature about Octocrylene causing irritation. Octocrylene had 2 reported cases of irritation in 2003 but according to an article published in the Contact Dermatitis journal, reports of positive patch testing have been increasing. Here’s some additional information from Medscape about sunscreen allergies. The Archives of Dermatology and the Dermatology Journal Online also discuss allergic responses Octocrylene.

One theory is that Octocrylene appears to be a strong allergen leading to contact dermatitis in children and mostly photoallergic contact dermatitis in adults with an often-associated history of photoallergy from ketoprofen (a pain reliever). Patients with photoallergy from ketoprofen frequently have positive photopatch test reactions to octocrylene. These patients need to be informed of sunscreen products not containing octocrylene, benzophenone-3, or fragrances.

DNA damage?

The second part of the controversy is more serious because it involves potential DNA damage. Octocrylene is one of those ingredients that can be absorbed into the skin and some studies have shown that it may promote generation of potentially harmful free radicals when exposed to light. Since free radicals can damage DNA, there is concern that this ingredient might have contributed to an increased incidence of melanoma in sunscreen-users compared to non-users. Researchers say further studies are warranted to determine the true health impact of this ingredient. (References: Smartskincare.com; ScienceDirect)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

This beauty myth does have a kernel of truth to it. It seems like there is some legitimate concern regarding irritation for and children & some adults (still a minority of the population) will want to avoid it. And further research is warranted into the free radical damage that this ingredient could potentially cause.

If you’re concerned about this ingredient, you may get some peace of mind by using an Octocrylene free sunscreen which you can buy here.


Not ready to buy sunscreen but want to learn more about busting beauty myths? Download our FREE guide!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Denise February 22, 2016, 6:18 am

    I am allergic to propylene glycol & must read everything I use & ingest. I’ve tried various face moisturizers none felt good going on. I’ve been using the Simple brand for a couple of months & started getting the same allergic reaction that I had before I found out about my PG allergy. I’ve been stumped as to what I am exposing myself to to cause this new reaction. I decided to look up the active ingredients in this product & here I am. I will stop using it & see if the allergic reaction I am having subsides. Thank you.