Yesterday, we asked what your sunscreen questions were. Here is the answer to one of the questions asked:

Octocrylene has been evaluated by the FDA and is considered safe for use up to 10% in the forumla. The European Union has allows its use up to 10% in a formula and Health Canada allows a maximum use level of 12%

I haven’t looked at the data and am not a professional toxicologist so am in no way qualified to dispute people who are. The question of safety is different from the question of whether something is an allergen. There are lots of “safe” ingredients that are used in cosmetics which also happen to be allergens that some people should avoid.

A brief search through the published literature shows that Octocrylene had 2 reported cases of being an allergen in 2003 but according to an article published in the Contact Dermatitis journal, reports of positive patch testing have been increasing. According to this more recent review in Archives of Dermatology more cases have been identified. Their conclusion is interesting…

” Octocrylene 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. 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.”

So, it seems like their is some legitimate concern and children & some adults with skin that is “easily irritated” (still a minority of the population) will want to avoid it. This means it’s an allergen to some people not that it is “unsafe”.

Are Sunscreens adequately tested?
Chemical sunblocks are tried and tested more thoroughly than any other ingredient that’s found in cosmetics. They are drug ingredients so the FDA requires specific testing and validation. Are they tested enough? I don’t know but according to the independent, toxocologists that helped develop the testing guidelines, YES they are tested enough for you to feel confident about using them.

No level of testing can guarantee that everyone who uses a compound will react perfectly well to exposure. The testing that is done now is determined to be as good as needed. But identification of reactions in the marketplace is part of the testing. The FDA and other groups will take the results into consideration and revise testing standards if it makes scientific sense. That’s just how science works. It is not perfect.

Why Use it?
There are a variety of reasons a cosmetic chemist might want to replace titanium dioxide.

1. Aesthetic. It is not always clear and leaves white streaks on skin that consumers do not like.

2. Performance. It doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of UVA and UVB so additional protection is needed. In this case something like octocrylene would be added in addition to a mechanical sunblock.

3. Water resistance. Octocrylene helps make formulas more water resistant than titanium dioxide.

In truth, Octocrylene is a more expensive sunscreen and difficult to formulate so formulators stay away from it.


Perry Romanowski has over 18 years experience formulating products to solve consumer problems in the personal care and cosmetic industry. His primary focus has been on hair & hair related products. He is also an author who has published extensively about the field of cosmetic science. He is currently Vice President of Brains Publishing which specializes in science education. Perry received his B.S. in Chemistry from DePaul University. He has written and edited numerous articles and books, teaches Society of Cosmetic Chemists continuing education classes in cosmetic science, and is the primary author at a website dedicated to training current and future cosmetic scientists. His latest book project is the third edition of Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry published by Allured. Perry can be reached through his website ChemistsCorner where he is available for consulting about cosmetic formulating, testing, and Internet solutions.

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