Octinoxate: Is It Safe For Your Skin? Learn All About It

Written by Ramona Sinha

While checking the ingredients list of your sunscreen lotion, you might have come across the name octinoxate. This is a chemical UV filter. Most of you might be avoiding chemical UV filters as they are potentially harmful to the environment and may also irritate the skin (though there isn’t sufficient evidence for this claim).

However, before you strike off this ingredient from your daytime skin routine, learn the truth about octinoxate, its uses, and how it may impact your skin.

What Is Octinoxate?

Octinoxate or octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) is a UV absorber. It appears like a clear, non-water-soluble liquid and is combined with other chemicals in sunscreen to prevent UV damage. It absorbs UV rays of a specific wavelength range, preventing them from penetrating the epidermis (1). Octinoxate combines methoxy cinnamic acid and 2-ethyl hexanol. These compounds are not harmful by themselves.

UV damage is usually caused by the free radicals produced by oxidative stress. Free radicals, also called reactive oxygen species (ROS), can affect the body’s tissues and cells and may cause photodamage, which includes dark spots, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and even skin cancer (2). Chemical UV filters like octinoxate in sunscreen help avert such damage.

Chemical filters are different from mineral UV filters (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), which sit on the skin and block the UV rays.

To locate octinoxate in your sunscreen products, you can scan the ingredient list and check for:

  • OMC
  • Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate
  • Parsol and Parsol MCX
  • Escalol
  • 2-Ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate

There have been controversies regarding the chemical filters getting absorbed by the skin into the system. Some studies found traces of oxybenzone in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine, and blood. It is also considered a potential endocrine disruptor (3). Hence, it is quite natural to be concerned about the safety and risks associated with octinoxate. Let’s read more about it in the next section.

Is Octinoxate Safe As A Sunscreen Ingredient?

There is not enough empirical evidence to mark octinoxate as a safe or unsafe ingredient.

The FDA restricts its strength to a maximum of 7.5 % in skin care products (5). Other countries like Canada, Japan, and the European Union also allow the usage of octinoxate in sunscreens but have capped the maximum concentration at which this chemical can be used in these products.

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most harmful), the Environmental Working Group gives octinoxate a 5 rating, as it may cause (6):

  • moderate endocrine disruption
  • non-reproductive organ system toxicity (low)
  • biochemical or cellular level changes (high)

Hawaii has banned the sales of any sunscreen and product containing octinoxate and oxybenzone, as these ingredients are not reef-safe and have other environmental repercussions (7).

Octinoxate may also affect neurological and reproductive development. A study on pregnant Wistar rats found that octyl methoxycinnamate affected reproductive and neurological systems in rat offspring (8).

While scientists are not sure if octinoxate will have the same effect on humans, it is definitely a cause of concern. A study detected trace amounts of octinoxate in urine and concluded that it penetrates the human skin (9). On the flip side, some studies have concluded that even if the chemicals pass through the skin, their levels are too low to cause toxicity (4).

While studies remain inconclusive on octinoxate’s impact on human skin and health, you will find it in various products. Despite some looming concerns over the safety of using octinoxate in skin care products, all the big cosmetic and beauty brands are using it. This is due to the skin benefits that octinoxate offers.

Benefits Of Octinoxate

1. Protects The Skin From Harmful UV Rays

The primary function of octinoxate is to filter out harmful UV rays and prevent photodamage and photoaging. It can:

  • Prevent sunburn
  • Reduce the risk of skin cancer
  • Reduce the risk of premature aging
  • Prevent collagen degradation (caused by free radicals)

2. Gives A Thin Consistency To Formulation

Most of us think of sunscreens as being thick, sticky, and not easy to spread (leaving the infamous white ghost-like cast). However, sunscreens with octinoxate usually have a light texture, consistency, and flow, making the product easy to apply.

3. No White Cast

Usually, mineral sunscreens and products with a mix of physical and chemical filters leave a white cast on the skin. However, using octinoxate in sunscreens has minimal chances of leaving a white cast on the skin.

Wondering whether you should use or avoid sunscreens and skin products containing octinoxate? Check out the next section.

Who Should Avoid Using Products With Octinoxate

Anyone can use products with octinoxate. However, avoid them if you:

  • Have melasma (as people with this condition need UVA and UVB protection, which chemical filters cannot provide)
  • Have sensitive skin
  • Have acne-prone skin (chemicals may aggravate the lesions)
  • Are pregnant or lactating (as its effects are still unclear)
  • Have skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis
  • Are allergic to chemical filters

To Sum Up

Research is still ongoing on the long-term health effects of chemical filters, including octinoxate. As of now, there is no concrete proof regarding the health hazards of octinoxate, which is why the FDA and other such bodies have not banned it yet. If you do not want to take any risk and want an environment-friendly option, switch to physical sunscreens.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Octinoxate banned?

Octinoxate is banned only in Hawaii as it is not reef-friendly.

How does octinoxate work differently from mineral-based sunscreen?

Octinoxate absorbs UV rays, while mineral-based sunscreens block and reflect the rays.

Is octinoxate safe during pregnancy?

It is better to avoid it during pregnancy as its effects are still unknown.

Is octinoxate cancerous?

No. There is no scientific proof that octinoxate causes cancer.


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