Sunscreen Actives

Also known as octyl methoxycinnamate and ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, octinoxate is the oldest and most common sunscreen active used to protect skin, primarily against UVB rays. Although octinoxate does provide some UVA protection, it does not protect against the entire range of UVA wavelengths; therefore, there should be another UVA-protecting active present in any sunscreen you use.

Octinoxate has a solid record of safety (decades of research and thousands of studies establishing its safety in sunscreens as indisputable). Unfortunately, unfounded claims that this staple of SPF formulas causes cancer have made many afraid to use sunscreens that contain it. There are no studies that demonstrate octinoxate, when and as used in SPF products, causes or increases the risk of developing cancer. In the sole studies cited when the “octinoxate = cancer” claim is made, the conditions are completely inapplicable to how sunscreen ingredients are used in skincare products. For example, such “studies” use extremely high concentrations of octinoxate (much higher than would ever be used in sunscreens) applied directly to isolated skin cells (rather than intact skin), or even fed to lab animals. [1,2]

Octinoxate is safe as long as you don’t drink it! There simply isn’t any research backing the claim that octinoxate has any link to causing cancer or other illnesses when used in sunscreen formulas. In fact, the European Union’s permitted usage level for octinoxate in sunscreens is higher than the maximum amount permitted in the United States (7.5% in the United States, 10% in the EU). [3,4]

References Cited:

  1. Montenegro L, Puglisi G. Evaluation of sunscreen safety by in vitro skin permeation studies: effects of vehicle composition. Pharmazie. 2013;68(1):34-40.
  2. Hayden C, Cross S, Anderson C, Saunders N, Roberts M. Sunscreen penetration of human skin and related keratinocyte toxicity after topical application. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2005;18(4):170-4.
  3. European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers. Cosmetic Ingredient Glossary; Substance: 2-Ethylhexyl 4-methoxycinnamate / Octinoxate. [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2015 July]. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/cosmetics/cosingindex.cfm?fuseaction=search.details_v2&id=28816.
  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21--FOOD AND DRUGS. [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2015 July]. Available from: www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=352.50.
See octyl methoxycinnamate

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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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