Spotlight On Octinoxate

by Gio
why octinoxate in sunscreen is not dangerous

Another day, another UV filter that gets a bad rep.

Seriously, if you were to believe the rumours going around about Uv filters, you’d just skip sunscreen and call it a day. And then wonder why all of a sudden you have wrinkles creeping up on your face left, right and centre…

You need sunscreen. And you need it to be safe. That means going to the bottom of these rumours and figure out which UV filters are good and which are bad.

First one on the witness stand: Octinoxate. It’s accused of causing cancer and hormonal imbalances. Is this true? Let’s examine the evidence:

What The Heck Is Octinoxate and what does it do?

Octinoxate is the easy-to-remember name for Octyl methoxycinnamate. For the nerds among you, it’s an ester formed from 2-Ethylhexanol and Methoxycinnamic Acid.

Octinoxate is an UVB filter. This means it protects skin only from UVB rays and the sunburns and DNA damage their cause.

According to, “when exposed to sunlight octyl methoxycinnamate is converted into a less UV absorbent form (from E-octyl-p-methoxycinnamate into a Z-octyl-p-methoxycinnamate)”.

In plain English, this means that when you expose it to sunlight (and it needs to be exposed to sunlight or what’s the point of wearing sunscreen?), it loses some of its effectiveness.

Thankfully, there’s a workaround. Add other UV filters that can prevent this conversion, such as Tinosorb M.

Does Octinoxate Cause Cancer?

Short answer: no. There’s no evidence that Octinoxate causes cancer (or hormonal disruption and any other health problems, for that matter).

The long version: Octinoxate still isn’t dangerous for you. The rumours originated from a few studies that Octinoxate is toxic for rats – when they eat a truckload of it or scientists apply it to their uterus and liver cells.

An example? In 2004, scientists at the University of Zurich fed rats Octinoxate and found it to disrupt their hormonal balance. But rats aren’t humans. Just because something hurts them, it doesn’t mean it will hurt us, too.

Plus, we don’t eat Octinoxate. You slather it on your skin. That’s a huge difference. To say that sunscreen with Octinoxate causes cancer because rats that were forced to eat too much of it got cancer is bad science.


Can Octinoxate Be absorbed by Your Body?

The other rumour that’s scaring people off: Octinoxate is absorbed by your body. That’s proof it will kill you. 🙄

In 2005, researchers in Australia found traces of Octinoxate in the stratum corneum and epidermis 24 hours after it was applied on the skin. Their conclusion?

The amount of Octinoxate in the epidermis was “at least 5-fold lower, based on levels detected in viable epidermal cells, than those appearing to cause toxicity in cultured human keratinocytes. It is concluded that the human viable epidermal levels of sunscreens are too low to cause any significant toxicity”.

Translation: the amount of Octinoxate in the epidermis is too low to cause any health problems.

If you’re pregnant/breastfeeding or using sunscreen on a young child, I’d avoid Octinoxate and use a mineral sunscreen instead. They’re gentler. But there’s no reason why all other adults can’t use it.

The Real Danger of Octinoxate

Octinoxate doesn’t play well with Abovenzone, the most used UVA filter in the world.

When exposed to sunlight, Octinoxate degrades both itself and Avobenzone, which isn’t very stable to begin with. It’d be too long and boring to explain how this happens. If you’re curious, you can check out this detailed post by John Su’s at Future Derm.

All you need to know is this degradation makes your sunscreen ineffective. To slow it down and make sure you’re protected for at least a couple of hours, formulators add stabilisers like Octocrylene.

Still, if your sunscreen has both Octinoxate and Avobenzone, it’s not a bad idea to reapply it very frequently.

Related: Why Avobenzone Is The Most Used UV Filter In The World

What Are The Best Sunscreens With Octinoxate?


The Bottom Line

Octinoxate isn’t toxic and won’t give you cancer. Just make sure you avoid pairing it with avobenzone.

Do you use sunscreens with Octinoxate? Share your faves in the comments below.



Monica P May 28, 2013 - 4:03 pm

Yes, I do use the EltaMD UV SHIELD BROAD-SPECTRUM SPF 45 and I’m quite happy with the product as you can put it on and put makeup over it and it’s perfectly fine. I occasionally use products with avobenzone such as Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry touch lotion if I’m going to be at the beach (which is rare).

If I’m going to be in the sun or outdoors, then I really like using Alba Botanica Hawaiian Natural Sunscreen with Green Tea, SPF 45.

Good post! I think it’s good to clarify what ingredients can be harmful in sunscreens 🙂


beautifulwithbrains May 28, 2013 - 8:09 pm

Monica, EltaMD and Neutrogena make some great sunscreens, don’t they? I’m glad they work well for you too.

And I agree. There is so much confusion over which sunscreen ingredients are harmful and which are safe, and it’s important to set the record straight on the matter. 🙂

Trisha May 28, 2013 - 5:45 pm

Gosh, I learn so much from you Gio. Beautiful with Brains, indeed.

beautifulwithbrains May 28, 2013 - 8:10 pm

Trisha, awww thank you! 😳 I’m glad you find these posts informative. 🙂

[Review] Innisfree Mineral UV Whitening Pact SPF 50/PA+++ | a fine mess August 14, 2013 - 10:24 am

[…] (If you’re interested in reading more about octinoxate, visit this link for more information: […]

mrsshukra September 9, 2013 - 3:12 am

I just read this post, thank you Monica! Been so worried about the Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua compact which I use but I only just read that it contains Octinoxate and going on the EWG site scared me about Octinoxate.

beautifulwithbrains September 9, 2013 - 9:53 pm

Mrsshukra, you’re welcome. And stay away from the EWG. Their scary reports are always dismissed by scientists. They may have good intentions, but have a tendency to misinterpret studies and exaggerate potential dangers.

grlttc December 30, 2013 - 5:56 am

Hey im 8 weeks pregnant. And I was using garnier bb cream everyday which contains 3 Percent octinoxate. Now im scared that I was using it during pregnancy. How high does the ingredient have to be to harm? Did I harm my baby 🙁

Gio December 30, 2013 - 10:21 pm

Grittc, you can relax, you didn’t harm you baby. Octinoxate was shown to have an estrogenic effect on rats, but they were given very high amounts of it. We don’t know how it affects humans, which is why some experts recommend not to use it during pregnancy, but it is highly unlikely that using it in the minuscule amounts you did for only 8 weeks did any damage. I would recommend you switch to a zinc-oxide (non-micronized) based sunscreen, though, as that’s the safest option for pregnant women.

grlttc December 30, 2013 - 11:44 pm

Thank u sooo much really appriciate it :). I am a lil relieved now.I understand wht ur saying about testing on rats with high amounts.most websites just state the findings and dont elaborate on the way they tested. I love the way you explained the studies. Thank u sooo much for ur info.

Gio December 31, 2013 - 5:15 pm

Grittc, you’re very welcome. 🙂

Discover to your new super anti-aging sunscreen – Geeky Posh July 11, 2017 - 12:00 am

[…] Octinoxate 10% – Protects the skin from UVB, which can cause burning. Despite what some sites claim, this is a safe ingredient when used in sunscreen (source) […]

Kate September 29, 2017 - 12:30 am

Do you actually understand how research works? It’s unethical and illegal to conduct the sort of human subject research you propose because of the potential unknown harms people would be exposed to. Researchers can’t just give people a substance to see if they develop cancer….
Studies are conducted using rats because they have one of the most similar hormone/reproductive systems to humans.

Gio September 29, 2017 - 12:32 pm

Kate, where am I proposing we do cancer tests on humans?! I’m only saying that you can’t compare the results of a study done by exposing rats to high amounts of octinoxate to humans who use a little amount on their skin. Of course I am NOT in any way, shape or form, proposing we test this stuff on humans. I’m appalled you got that idea, to be honest.

Wendy October 11, 2017 - 7:20 pm

There is zero evidence that chemical sunscreens cause cancer or any other disease. Rather, skin cancer is primarily caused from not using sun screen at all. Kate, your information was factual and helpful

Gio October 14, 2017 - 11:18 am

Wendy, I couldn’t agree more!

deepa g July 29, 2018 - 2:20 pm

Hi am using sunscreen with octinoxate ,avobenzone and it safe to use

Gio August 5, 2018 - 10:32 am

Deepa, if you’re not allergic to them, yes it’s safe.

shaL September 10, 2018 - 12:08 am

i am using foundation that contains Octinoxate about 4.9 % ,do you think it is safe to use?

Gio September 15, 2018 - 9:42 am

Shal, unless you’re allergic to it, it’s safe.


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