is avobenzone dangerous in sunscreen

Can you guess what’s the most used UV filter in the whole world? *drumroll* Avobenzone!

The reason is simple: it’s the only UVA filter available all over the world that doesn’t turn your face into a white, greasy mess. Yes, other UVA filters exist, but they’re either not been approved for use in big countries like the USA (think Mexoryl and Tinosorb) or are greasy and can leave a white cast behind (you’ve guessed it, I’m talking about Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide).

But, it seems like the tide is turning. Avobenzone is getting a bad rep lately and a lot of people want nothing to do with it, preferring dealing with a white cast and greasy texture instead. Why is this happening? Here’s what the deal with abovenzone is:

What Is Avobenzone?

You won’t find Avobenzone on the ingredient label. Instead, it hides under the name Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane (cos that’s easier to decipher… šŸ™„ ). In case it’s not confusing enough, Avobenzone has another name: Parsol 1789.

Avobenzone is the grandpa of UV filters. It’s been around since 1871! It’s one of the very few UV filters thatĀ protect from the entire UVA rangeĀ (my guess is that if more UV filters did this, Avobenzone would be enjoying its retirement by now).

In the United States, it can be used in sunscreen up to 3%. The European Union allows it in sunscreens up to 5%.

How Does Avobenzone Work?

Short answer: Avobenzone works like all other synthetic UV filters. It absorbs UVA rays and converts them into a less damaging form of heat.

Long answer: UVA rays are responsible for speeding up the aging process, leading to premature wrinkles and saggy skin. With UVB rays, it also plays a part in the development of skin cancer. Not something you want to hit your skin, ya know.

When you’re wearing a sunscreen with Avobenzone and UVA rays hit your skin, this UV filter absorbs them, starting a chemical reaction that changes UV engird into a less dangerous type of heat energy.

What about UVB rays? Avobenzone must always be used with other UV filters that protect from UVB rays.

Related: What’s The Difference Between UVA And UVB Rays?


How effective is your sunscreen? Download the Sunscreen Audit cheatsheet to find out if it’s up to the job:


Is Avobenzone Stable?

Wanna know why it’s time to retire avobenzone? This UV filter isn’t dangerous or anything like that. It’s just not very stable. This means it breaks down very quickly when exposed to light. Once it breaks down, it can’t provide sun protection anymore. If not used together with friends who can stabilise it, it becomes completely useless within one hour! But even its friends can’t make it survive that much longer.

In case you’re wondering, UV filters and technologies that can stabilise avobenzone include Octocrylene, Helioplex, SunSure and AvoTriplex. But, as I’ve mentioned, they don’t make it last forever – hence why you need to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours or so. Besides, some of them (yes, Octocrylene, I’m looking at you) can be irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin.

By the way, ALL UV filters break down when exposed to sunlight. That’s why you’re told to reapply your sunscreen every few hours. Avobenzone (when used alone) just happens to break down a lot faster than other UV filters.

Related: What UV Filters Can Cause Irritations And Allergies?

Avobenzone Side Effects

Ok, so you know what Avobenzone is and how it protects your skin from UVA rays. But is it safe? Does it have any side effects? Only for sensitive skin. Avobenzone is a common irritant and allergen, so it can cause a negative reaction in sensitive skin. If that’s you, opt for mineral-based sunscreens (preferably, one that only uses Zinc Oxide as UV filter).

Said that, for the vast majority of people, Avobenzone is a safe and effective UV filter. Unless you’re allergic to it, there’s no reason to avoid it.

Is Avobenzone An Endocrine-Disruptor?

Critics say Avobenzone is an endocrine-disruptor. If this were true, Avobenzone could cause birth defects, developmental disorders and even cancers. Here’s the truth: avobenzone has shown endocrine-disrupting abilities. BUT (and this is a big but), according to a study published by The University Of Queensland, its endocrine-disrupting abilities areĀ “several orders of magnitude lower than that of the natural estrogens”.Ā 

Yes, you’ve read that right: “NATURAL” estrogen. A lot of plants have endocrine-disrupting abilities too, but no one makes a fuss about them because they’re natural. How silly is that?! By the way, I’m not saying that plants will kill you. What I’m saying is that just becauseĀ something has endocrine-disrupting abilities, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s dangeorus. In the case of Avobenzone (and many plants), there are too weak to do any harm.

Related: 7 Skincare Ingredients With An Undeserved Bad Reputation

Is Avobenzone Absorbed By Your Body?

I said before and I’ll say it again: there’s NO research showing that Avobenzone is toxic or dangerous for human health. But, a study found that AvobenzoneĀ IS aborbed by the body.Ā For most of us, this is NOT a problem. You just get rid of it when you pee. But it MAY be a problem for young children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The reasoning here is that foetuses, babies and young children aren’t fully developed yet, so Avobenzone may be more problematic for them to get rid of. We don’t know for sure because, for obvious reasons, it is illegal to carry out this type of studies.

I don’t think this is a big deal because Avobenzone has been around for so long already and it doesn’t seem to have done much harm. But, just to stay on the safe side, use mineral sunscreen (i.e. those with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide) if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and on children. Just in case.

Related: 3 Reasons Mineral Sunscreen Is Better For Sensitive Skin

What Are The Best Sunscreens With Avobenzone?

  • La Roche Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Face Sunscreen SPF 60 ($19.99):Ā Ideal for oily skin, this lightweight sunscreen provides broad spectrum protection and absorbs excess oil for a matte finish. Available atĀ Boots,Ā Dermstore,Ā La Roche Posay, andĀ Ulta.
  • Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Body SPF 40 Invisible Sun Protection ($42.00): It’s lightweight, fast-absorbing and doesn’t leave a white cast behind. Perfect for the beach too. Available at Free People, Nordstrom, Revolve, Supergroup, and Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 50 ($17.00): A broad spectrum, high SPF sunscreen that provide fantastic protection even on the hottest summer days without leaving a white cast behind. Available at Dermstore and Paula’s Choice.

Mineral Sunscreens: The Best Alternatives To Avobenzone Sunscreens

Avobenzone IS safe in sunscreen. But I know some of you still are not comfortable to use it or have sensitive skin that gets irritated by it. If that’s you, here are some great alternatives to Avobenzone sunscreens that keep you safe in the sun.

  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36.00):Ā A tinted mineral sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection. Most suitable for dry skin. Available atĀ Cult Beauty,Ā Sephora, andĀ SpaceNK
  • EltaMD UV Pure BroadSpectrum SPF 47 ($25.00):Ā A wonderful, lightweight formula for oily skin that provides broad-spectrum protection without leaving a greasy, white mess. Available atĀ DermstoreĀ andĀ Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00):Ā Lightweight and waterproof, this sunscreen provides high broad-spectrum protection gentle enough for sensitive skin. Available atĀ Neiman MarcusĀ andĀ Sephora

The Bottom Line

Avobenzone is an effective UVA filter when used together with friends who can make it more stable. Just stay away from it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and don’t put it on kids. But for most adults, it’s totally safe.