Lacking safety data, the FDA should act to ban oxybenzone in sunscreens

Time’s up, sunscreen industry.

Last month, the clock ran out on the sunscreen industry to prove to the Food and Drug Administration that oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreen, is both safe and effective.

For decades, sunscreen makers have used oxybenzone in their products, despite concerns about its health harms. In 2021, the FDA told these companies: Prove the chemical’s safety and show adequate progress in completing safety tests, or we’ll ban its use. If the industry missed its September deadline to respond, it’s time for the FDA to act. 

Oxybenzone is a troubling ingredient for two reasons: Studies show it may interfere with the hormone system, and it is more readily absorbed into the blood than other ingredients.

There is not enough data to show that using oxybenzone protects consumers from serious sun exposure problems, including cancer and endocrine effects. In particular, studies show oxybenzone may increase the risk of breast cancer. Exposure is also associated with other health harms, including changes to estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels. Oxybenzone is also one of the most common allergens in sunscreens.

Because oxybenzone is used so widely in sunscreens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found it in the blood of nearly all Americans. Studies show the chemical is easily absorbed by the skin, can stay in the body for weeks after use, and is ingested by babies through breast milk

It’s no surprise oxybenzone was one of a dozen sunscreen chemicals the FDA placed in regulatory purgatory three years ago, while it reviewed concerns about its harms to human health. Since then, the case against oxybenzone has only gotten stronger. 

If the sunscreen industry won’t defend the use of oxybenzone in sunscreens, why should it be allowed? If manufacturers won’t produce data showing it’s safe, the FDA should act immediately. Other nations have taken steps to limit or even ban oxybenzone from sunscreens.

The good news is many sunscreen companies aren’t waiting for the FDA to move on banning use of this chemical and are already phasing it out. In May, EWG found oxybenzone in just 30 percent of non-mineral sunscreens reviewed – down from 60 percent three years ago. 

Consumers should check products against EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens and avoid those with oxybenzone. Shoppers on the go can download EWG’s Healthy Living App to get ratings and safety information on sunscreens and other personal care products.

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