What is Avobenzone?
One of the more effective ways to take care of your skin’s health and maintain a youthful appearance is to protect it from the sun. Sunscreens are the most effective way to do this. There are two types of sunscreen, chemical and physical. Physical sunscreens such as zinc oxide often congest your skin and reduce the lasting power of make-up. This is where chemical sunscreens have become useful. One of these chemical sunscreens is avobenzone.
Avobenzone works by absorbing UV rays protecting the skin from severe sunburns and melanoma and helps to shield the skin from damage to healthy skin cells and collagen. Like most sunscreens, avobenzone works by absorbing the UV rays and converting them to an energy that is less damaging to the skin, heat. Avobenzone and similar ingredients are often called chemical sunscreens, they can also be called organic sunscreens.
Avobenzone is highly effective at protecting the skin against UVA rays; however, it does break down rapidly when it is exposed to the sun, usually 50-90% in an hour of UV exposure. This breakdown is minimized by the addition of stabilizers such as octocrylene. Most chemical sunscreen formulations will include more than one sunscreen ingredient. This is due to both improving the spectrum of the sunscreen and helping to stabilize its effectiveness.
the good: Protects the skin from UV rays and damage to healthy skin cells and collagen.
the not so good: Is often formulated with other chemical sunscreens that have been linked with coral reef bleaching. However, there are formulations that are reef-friendly that contain avobenzone.
Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients
Keep an eye on: More research on the environmental impact of avobenzone.
How to Use Avobenzone
When applying a sunscreen that contains avobenzone, be sure to read all instructions and warnings. While this product is generally safe to use on many areas of the body, you should be cautious and avoid getting the lotion into your eyes or mouth.
Since avobenzone isn’t waterproof, you should reapply the sunscreen if you sweat heavily or go swimming. If you plan on staying in the sun for a long time, you should also reapply after two to three hours. Do not apply creams with avobenzone to broken or irritated skin, as the ingredient can exacerbate the irritation.
Contrary to popular belief, SPF 30 doesn’t provide double protection compared to SPF 15. Instead, SPF 15 allows 1 in every 15 harmful rays to reach your skin, SPF 30 lets in 1 in every 30, and SPF 50 lets in 1 in 50 rays. Thus, SPF 15 provides 93% protection, SPF 30 provides 97%, and SPF 50 provides 98% protection.
Chemical Sunscreen vs. Physical Sunscreen
There are two categories of sunscreens on the market, one is physical, and one is chemical. Avobenzone falls into the chemical-based sunscreen category. However, it is essential to understand the difference when determining which product is for you.
Physical sunscreens work by absorbing the UV rays from the sun and transferring it into heat. Physical sunscreens are often described as working by relfecting the UV rays from the skin. This isn’t technically true, while physical sunscreens do reflect UV rays, they only reflect about 10% of the rays. The rest of the UV rays are absorbed and converted into heat, exactly like chemical sunscreens. The heat that is produced from this action is negligible and doesn’t damage the skin.
These types of formulations rely on the use of ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to provide this protection. Physical sunscreens create a barrier between the skin and the sun and aren’t absorbed into the skin. They are generally broad-spectrum, meaning that they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
As physical sunscreens are designed to sit on top of the skin, they will often leave a whitecast on the skin when used correctly.
Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin and absorb the sun’s harmful rays before they can penetrate deep enough to cause damage to the skin. Often chemical sunscreens are used in combination with another chemical sunscreen to provide broad-spectrum protection.
In the case of avobenzone, it is commonly used in conjunction with UVB blocking ingredients as it works best in preventing damage from UVA rays.
Also, both types of sunscreens, physical and chemical, will often include ingredients such as vitamin C or E to protect against damage from free radicals. Free radical damage is more likely to occur with chemical sunscreens than with physical sunscreens, so these ingredients are important to look for in your sunscreen product.
Does Avobenzone Protect Against UVA and UVB?
Avobenzone is not a highly effective sunscreen agent when used alone. As with most chemical sunscreens, avobenzone needs another chemical sunscreen to help increase its protective abilities. It does, however, protect against UVA rays.
Is Avobezone Safe?
Given the controversy around chemical sunscreens, the FDA has invested resources into determining the safety of chemical sunscreen formulations. The FDA has found avobenzone to be safe in sunscreen formulations.
The regulation of avobenzone is important as chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin. The majority of studies suggest the absorption of the ingredient into the bloodstream is not significant enough to cause any harm at the concentrations approved by the FDA. However, a study published by Frontiers in Medicine, noted that there had been some research suggesting that chemical sunscreens may be absorbed into the bloodstream at a higher rate than previous studies have indicated. It is important to note that this is not yet the scientific consensus, and the relevant regulatory bodies will review new information as it becomes available.
The potential issue with avobenzone and other chemical sunscreens being absorbed into the bloodstream is that it may disrupt hormones in the body. There is no current evidence to suggest this occurs with avobenzone. Some studies have indicated this effect in other chemical sunscreens. While this may seem scary, it is unlikely that the amount of sunscreen used over a lifetime would add up to a significant enough dose to disrupt hormones. An article by Harvard Health estimates that it would take 277 years of sunscreen use to create a substantial disruption. If you are concerned about the potential effects of avobenzone, speak with your dermatologist and your physician, especially if you are pregnant.
Is Avobenzone Reef Friendly?
Avobenzone is often formulated in reef-friendly formulations. There is mixed information about whether avobenzone contributes to the coral bleaching that has been associated with chemical sunscreens. Most studies suggest it isn’t responsible by itself, but avobenzone has to be formulated with other chemical sunscreens, some of which have been linked to coral bleaching.
However, what is important to note is that coral bleaching caused by sunscreen ingredients, including natural or reef friendly alternatives like zinc oxide are considered a low level contributing factor to coral bleaching.
Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2018. `The Science of Sunscreen’, Harvard Health Publishing.
Paul, S, 2019. ‘Ensuring the Safety of Sunscreens, and Their Efficacy in Preventing Skin Cancers: Challenges and Controversies for Clinicians, Formulators, and Regulators’. Frontiers in Medicine: Dermatology.
PubChem, ‘Avobenzone’, National Library of Medicine.
Ruszkiewicz, J, Pinkas, A, Ferrer, B, Peres, T, Tsatsakis, A, & Aschner, M, 2017. ‘Neurotoxic effect of active ingredients in sunscreen products, a contemporary review’, Toxicology Reports, vol. 4, pp. 245-259.
Rai, R, Shanmuga, S, & Srinivas, C, 2012. ‘Update on photoprotection’, Indian Journal of Dermatology, vol. 57, is. 5, pp. 335-342.