Oxybenzone is a common skin care ingredient sometimes referred to as Eusolex 4360, Escalol 567 or benzophenone-3. In its raw form, the ingredient resembles tiny, colorless crystals that look like sugar or table salt. An organic compound, one molecule of oxybenzone contains 14 carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms and 3 oxygen atoms.
The structure of an oxybenzone molecule makes it easily react with hydrogen to form new compounds. As a result, oxybenzone molecules readily absorb ultraviolet type A rays (UVA) that are contained in sunlight. By absorbing this intense energy, oxybenzone can protect substances from sustaining damage due to sunlight. For this reason, small amounts of oxybenzone are sometimes added to skin care products packaged in clear containers. In these products, the oxybenzone helps the products remain potent even when stored in direct or partial sunlight.
Just as oxybenzone has the ability to protect skin care formulations from damage caused by the sun, it also can shield the skin tissue from such damage. Oxybenzone first made its appearance in sunscreens more than 20 years ago, and for years, was the preferred sunscreen ingredient for skin care products because of its ability to absorb UVA rays at different wavelengths. The advent of oxybenzone led to sunscreens being more effective at preventing sunburns.
The sun-protective abilities of oxybenzone have been reconfirmed in study after study, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the substance for use as an active ingredient in sunscreens sold in the United States. Sunscreen manufacturers alter the strengths of their products by varying the amounts of oxybenzone that they contain and use the Sun Protective Factor or SPF to signify these strengths. Oxybenzone sunscreens with higher SPF numbers contain greater concentrations of the ingredients than those with lower SPF numbers./P>
In addition to protecting the skin from the short-term ill effects of the sun, such as redness and sunburn, oxybenzone has the ability to protect the skin against the sun's long-term effects when used consistently during sun exposure. Regular use of a sunscreen that contains oxybenzone can help protect the skin from the sun-related cellular damage that leads to the premature formation of fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, the ingredient has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing skin cancers that are related to sun exposure, including the most fatal form of the disease, melanoma.
Despite how commonly it is used throughout the world, oxybenzone is a highly controversial skin care ingredient. The controversy surrounding the ingredient stems largely from the discovery that it is absorbed into the bloodstream. In July 2008, a study published in the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives" reported that trace amounts of the ingredient appeared in the urine samples of 95 percent of study participants, meaning that for the majority of people, some amount of oxybenzone is likely absorbed into the body when the sunscreen is applied to the skin.
While researchers generally agree upon the idea that oxybenzone is absorbed into the blood, their opinions on what the health consequences of this could be, if any. In 1997, a study published in "The Lancet" had already established that only 1 to 2 percent of the total amount of oxybenzone in a product is actually absorbed into the body. The researchers who performed this study and many who have reviewed it or conducted independent research of their own have concluded that this small amount of oxybenzone is unlikely to cause any side effects in users. Other researchers and organizations like the Environmental Working Group caution that the ingredient could be toxic or pose other serious risks.
Research into the long-term effects of oxybenzone and its general safety continue. As a protective measure, the European Union requires all products that contain oxybenzone in concentrations that meet or exceed .05 percent have a warning on their packaging that reads, "Contains oxybenzone." The FDA has not discussed taking similar steps in the United States and maintains that oxybenzone has a proven track record of safe use.
When considering whether or not to use products that contain oxybenzone, consumers should keep in mind that while the potential health effects of the ingredient are hypothetical, the harmful effects of UVA rays are proven. Protecting the skin from the sun is crucial to maintaining its youthful appearance and guarding against skin cancers. Until research proves otherwise, using oxybenzone sunscreen before sun exposure should be seen as offering far more benefits than proven risks; however, other sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are available as alternatives to oxybenzone.