UV filter

Oxybenzone at a glance

  • Globally approved UV filter
  • Offers both UVA and UVB protection
  • Has weak estrogenic properties that do not pose a health risk
  • Not definitively proven to damage corals in real-world settings
  • Despite claims to the contrary, it’s unlikely to irritate skin when used in approved amounts

Oxybenzone description

Oxybenzone is a globally approved sunscreen agent that protects primarily from UVB rays, and some, but not all, UVA rays. The maximum amount of oxybenzone approved for use in sunscreens varies by country: the United States and Canada permit concentrations up to 6%; Australia, New Zealand, European Union countries and most countries in Asia allow up to 10% except Japan which caps it at 5%. Studies in people and animals have shown oxybenzone has an estrogenic effect; however, this activity is considered weak, and some studies have shown no such effect. In cases where a hormonal change was measured via topical application, the difference was one million-fold less than what was measured from normal hormonal activity in the body. Studies involving people have shown that common UV filters do not have a biologically significant effect on hormones. Moreover, the small amount of this ingredient capable of getting into the body via topical application is metabolized and excreted, just like similar water-soluble ingredients. Research on pregnant people using sunscreens with 6% oxybenzone has shown that enough of it can penetrate the skin, enter the body, and can cross the placental barrier. But just because fetal exposure to oxybenzone in sunscreen is possible does not mean any harm is being done; oxybenzone has never been shown to cause any type of birth defect. Interestingly, some studies have shown that oxybenzone itself isn’t to blame, but instead a metabolite (4-hydroxy-benzophenone) of this ingredient is the issue. This metabolite comes from benzophenone, a chemical used in pharmaceuticals, recycled paper, inks, furniture, paints, lacquers, even as a flavoring in candy. In essence, it’s impossible to avoid any exposure to these ingredients, but you can certainly opt to avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is sometimes called out as a sunscreen active that is damaging to undersea coral reefs, the theory being that the sunscreen gets into the water from human activity in the oceans. However, despite research showing oxybenzone negatively impacts coral in vitro (meaning in a lab setting), there isn’t conclusive causation in a marine environment, especially given the numerous other factors, including climate change and ocean acidification believed to be the major causes of coral damage. This sunscreen ingredient is also called out for being a skin irritant; however, research examining widespread use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone hasn’t shown this to be the case. But as with all synthetic UV filters, a sensitised or allergic reaction is possible. Based on recent research on use of oxybenzone, it is one of several UV filters currently undergoing further safety testing under the purview of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This testing is to gain a better understanding of the systemic absorption, metabolism, and elimination of these sunscreen actives when small amounts enter the body via topical use. It’s important to know that the presence of this or other sunscreen actives in the body does not mean your health is at risk. It is anticipated that the additional testing being done will reaffirm the safety of these ingredients; however, those who remain concerned can choose sunscreens with mineral actives (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) which are not included in the FDA’s new call for additional testing.

Oxybenzone references

  • International Journal of Dermatology, September 2020, pages 1,033–1,042
  • The Science of the Total Environment, July 2020, ePublication; and August 2019, pages 390–398
  • Current Dermatology Reports, March 2020, pages 1–9
  • Endocrine Connections, February 2018, pages 334–346
  • Archives of Environmental Containment and Toxicology, February 2016, pages 265-288
  • Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, and Photomedicine, 2011, pages 58-67
  • Archives of Dermatology, July 2011 pages 865-866
  • European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers. Opinion on Benzophenone-3, December 2008, ePublication
  • Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, and Photomedicine, August 2008, pages 211–217

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


We couldn't find this in our ingredient dictionary. We log all missing ingredients and make continuous updates.

Not Rated