Recently, I received a comment asking me if oxybenzone was really a hormone disruptor or not. But before I delve into the science, let me tell the backstory for everyone involved.
The EWG Concludes Oxybenzone is a Hormone Disruptor, but the Evidence is Highly Debatable
The recent report published online by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has blacklisted Oxybenzone as a hormone disruptor that penetrates deeply into the skin.
According to Dr. Claudia Aguirre for the Dermal Institute, “The EWG report states that Oxybenzone is a potential hormone disruptor, although they once again extrapolate data from scientific studies to assess daily human use and risk. One study they cited (Schlumpf et al 2001) did show estrogenic effects on rats after ingestion of Oxybenzone. However, it is important to note that these animals were exposed to large amounts (more than the recommended for human use) of Oxybenzone via routes not used by humans, namely the mouth. So these results only apply to rodents eating large amounts of Oxybenzone, not humans spreading an Oxybenzone-containing cream over their skin. Another study on humans with more natural conditions could not confirm this data (Janjua et al 2004).”
Dr. Aguirre continues, “Let’s imagine that there is a risk of Oxybenzone to be a hormone disruptor. To do this it would have to penetrate deep into the living dermis. The EWG claims that this is the case, citing a study on Oxybenzone and penetration (Hayden 1997). However, they do not mention that this study was done in vitro, meaning they looked at the absorption in skin samples in the lab, and not on a human being. Another study by the same group saw deleterious effects on humans; however the fine print is that the participants were asked to use about 6 times the recommended amount of sunscreen needed to prevent sunburn. Again, these studies do not prove that Oxybenzone penetrates at the recommended levels.” [Full article at the Dermal Institute]
What is Known: You Shouldn’t Use Oxybenzone if You Are Pregnant or Nursing, or on a Child Under the Age of 2
Oxybenzone is absorbed into the skin and secreted in the urine in trace amounts (Cosmetic Dermatology). For persons over the age of 2, these trace amounts are considered to be safe, and have been evaluated in peer-reviewed laboratory studies as such. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) of the European Commission concluded in 2008 that oxybenzone in concentrations of 1-6% (typical to sunscreen products) does not pose a significant risk to consumers, apart from contact allergenic potential.
That said, if you are pregnant or nursing, or using oxybenzone-containing products on a child under the age of 2, these trace amounts are higher than in persons who are older and hence larger. For this reason, dermatologists like Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D., founder and director the Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute, state, “Chemical sunscreens [like avobenzone, oxybenzone] should not be used in children under two years of age.” (Cosmetic Dermatology) I personally advise avoiding them if pregnant or nursing as well.
Bottom Line: For Non-Pregnant, Non-Nursing Individuals and Adults, Oxybenzone is Fine
As I have said many times on this blog, it is NOT just an ingredient that matters. Rather, it is a combination of the ingredient, the concentration and the delivery system in which it is used, and the system (animal or human, cell culture or living creature) to which it is applied. I am not in favor of fearmongering and personally feel as though many of the risks posed by the EWG are greatly exaggerated, particularly when it comes to personal care products. But that is a conversation for another place and time.
At this time, I just want to say: Oxybenzone is fine for adults in the concentrations/delivery systems it is used in sunscreens and cosmetic products, and there are far more studies to validate its efficacy and safety as a sunscreen than to demonstrate it is an endocrine disruptor.