Chemical sunscreen agents have gained a bad reputation in recent years, which is not entirely deserved. While no sunscreen ingredient is perfect, many still provide important benefits to the skin and are a great alternative for those who are struggling to find a physical sunscreen that’s not too greasy for their skin type or won’t leave an unattractive white cast behind. One of the most controversial UV absorbers is Octocrylene, which is often accused of being dangerous to human health. But is that really true? Let’s take a closer look at it:
What is Octocrylene and what does it do?
Octocrylene is a chemical sunscreen agent that protects against UVB and some UVA rays (it blocks short, but not long UVA). Octocrylene is very weak and just not that good when used on its own. Yet, it has some benefits that other sunscreen ingredients lack. To start with, it helps make sunscreens more water-resistant. In addition, Octocrylene, which is stable and doesn’t degrade when exposed to sunlight, prevents other sunscreen agents from breaking down and losing their effectiveness. Even better, it can boost their efficiency. Finally, it also helps them coat the skin better. That’s why, despite it being hard to formulate, Octocrylene is used in so many sunscreens. Both in Europe and in the USA, it can be used only in concentrations up to 12%.
Octocrylene is an allergen
However, Octocrylene isn’t without side effects. In 2010, the Archives Of Dermatology has found that it “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.” Of course, only a minority of the population is allergic to Octocrylene, but if you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid it.
Octocrylene can cause free radicals
There is, however, another concern related to Octocrylene. A 2006 study has shown that this ingredient can be absorbed into the skin and cause the formation of free radicals when exposed to light. Free radicals are one of the main causes of premature aging and can seriously damage DNA. Some experts have voiced the concern this may be in part responsible for an increased incidence of melanoma in sunscreen-users compared to non-users. But before we panic, this hasn’t been proven yet. Further research is needed to determine how dangerous (or not), Octocrylene may be. In the meantime, I would recommend anyone using a sunscreen with Octocrylene to also apply a cream or serum loaded with antioxidants, which have been proven to effectively fight free radicals.
Should you stop using Octocrylene?
There is no clear-cut answer here (unless you’re allergic to it, in which case you should discontinue its use immediately). Octocrylene provides some great benefits to sunscreens and while there are some concerns about it producing free radicals, research still hasn’t determined how bad this is for the skin. In any case, free radicals can be neutralized with antioxidants, so if you’re interested in using Octocrylene, make sure you pick a sunscreen that’s also loaded with them, such as Paula’s Choice Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 50. A separate moisturizer or serum with antioxidants will work too.
Do you use sunscreens with Octocrylene?