What is it?
This substance belongs to the groups:
Benzophenone is a class of aromatic ketones with many derivatives. Some of the related compounds are benzophenone 1, benzophenone 2, benzophenone 3, benzophenone 4, and probably the most well known of them; oxybenzone.
Oxybenzone’s safety became world news in 2018 when Hawaii became the first state to ban the sunscreen chemical. (Jump down to read more, specifically, about oxybenzone side effects)
What the compounds have in common is that they all contain the benzophenone structure, which can be seen in the first image. When using the Ingredient Scanner, all related compounds are highlighted so you can avoid them easily.
These are 3 voices on the dangers of the chemical class:
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) classifies benzophenone as a substance that “may cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure and is harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.”
ChemSec’s SIN List, a database of chemicals likely to be banned or restricted in the near future, writes about the substance that “carcinogenic effects have been reported. It is potentially persistent and has been found in the environment. Its derivatives are potential endocrine disruptors.”
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund) list that this substance is a possible human carcinogen, may influence the endocrine system, cause organ system toxicity, may affect reproduction, and cause ecotoxicity; toxic to aquatic organisms and especially high levels can be found in areas where sunscreen is used. The chemical class is on their Red List.
Benzophenone was awarded Allergen of the Year in 2014 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Also note, if you are experiencing sensitivity or contact allergy of benzophenone, you are most likely also have oxybenzone allergy as well as an allergy to the other derivatives.
Ask your doctor for a patch test if you are suspecting an allergy!
Benzophenone – cancer
As can be seen above, there are findings linking benzophenone to cancer. Also, the OEHHA (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment) in California has listed the chemical as causing cancer.
What is important to remember, is that cancer is not something that happens instantly, overnight. Most cancers are caused by gene changes occurring over a longer period of times. Sometimes over decades, which is why most cancers occur in higher age.
Therefore, you can decrease the risk of developing cancer later in life by avoiding risk factors, such as known carcinogens.
Benzophenone (and oxybenzone) – pregnancy
As evident at this point, this chemical class has serious adverse effects. Avoiding products containing benzophenone and its derivates (including oxybenzone) during pregnancy is highly recommended.
Pregnant mothers and children are the most vulnerable to the negative effects of harmful chemicals. And especially concerning is the endocrine (hormone) disrupting potential of this chemical group.
This is what the WHO says about endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC):
“EDCs have been suspected to be associated with altered reproductive function in males and females; increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in immune function.”
Oxybenzone danger to the environment
Oxybenzone toxicity is the same as for the rest of this class, but since Hawaii has passed a bill to prohibit oxybenzone (and octinoxate) in sunscreens due to its harmful effects on marine life, ecosystems and coral reefs, it deserves special mention.
Researchers have found that the chemical, which contains the benzophenone formula, causes numerous negative effects:
- mortality in developing coral
- an increase of coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress
- genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms
- has shown to “degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals
- endocrine (hormone) disruption; feminization in adult male fish
- increase reproductive diseases in marine species by causing deformities in the embryonic development of aquatic animals
- “neurological behavioral changes in fish” that threaten the continuity of fish populations”.
The bill also says that environmental contamination of oxybenzone on coral reefs persists in Hawaii’s coastal waters,
“as the contamination is constantly refreshed and renewed every day by swimmers and beachgoers. Swimming and other water activities cause these chemicals to pollute Hawaii’s water”.
If you want to find oxybenzone and octinoxate free sunscreen we recommend that you use our free Ingredient Scanner. The ingredients of concern get instantly highlighted, so you can avoid them easily.
The benzophenone class is used both industrially and in all kinds of consumer products. They can be found in everything from household products, such as laundry and cleaning products, to sunglasses, and cosmetics⋆.
The chemicals are foremost used to protect materials and products from ultraviolet (UV) light, for example:
- Paint and varnish
Benzophenone in cosmetics and oxybenzone in sunscreen
So when you find benzophenone in cosmetics, such as perfumes and soaps, it is there to protect the product by preventing UV damage to, for example, scent and color.
However, due to its UV light properties, you will also relatively often, despite its dangers, find derivatives of benzophenones in sunscreens. In those cases, the derivatives are used to protect your skin from UV light.
When you use, for example, an oxybenzone sunscreen, it protects your skin from UV light by absorbing it.
Some cosmetic uses include:
- Lip balm
- Nail polish
- Hair spray
- Hair color
- Facial cleanser
- Creams and lotion
We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.
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