What is it?

“Octyl salicylate, or 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, is an organic compound used as an ingredient in sunscreens and cosmetics to absorb UVB (ultraviolet) rays from the sun. It is an ester formed by the condensation of a salicylic acid with 2-ethylhexanol. It is a colorless oily liquid with a slight floral odor.” Wikipedia

Ethylhexyl salicylate / Octisalate side effects

This substance belongs to the groups:

Similar to most chemicals, also ethylhexyl salicylate has numerous names. Some of the most well known are:

  • octisalate (which is used synonymously throughout the page)
  • octyl salicylate
  • 2-ethylhexyl salicylate.

All name variations, including the above-mentioned octisalate, octyl salicate and 2-ethylhexyl salicylate are marked by the Ingredient Scanner so you can avoid them easily – if you want.

Octisalate safe concerns

As there are not so many studies done on this chemical, one can also draw conclusions on its safety when looking at its structure. According to Chemsec, octisalate has a structural similarity to both parabens and phthalates.

This means that they are likely to share similar hazardous properties. Although further evaluation is needed to verify this, it is noticeable in terms of the chemical’s safety, that it has similarities to 2 evidently hazardous chemicals.

Below you can find 3 of the main concerns often raised with this chemical.

1. Is ethylhexyl salicylate / octisalate pregnancy safe?

We would advise both men and women to avoid this chemical if you are trying to conceive, want to have kids in the future or are currently pregnant.

The biggest concern regarding this chemical is its potential for disrupting hormones. In a Japanese in vitro-study, ethylhexyl salicylate / octisalate was found to have estrogen activity. So this is the main argument. Because even low quantities of exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals might have a negative effect.

Pregnant women and developing children are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of chemicals. And this is why we always promote the precautionary principle.

Furthermore, also Danish researchers from EDMaRC have come to similar conclusions such as the Japanese team. EdMaRC, which is an “International Center for Research in Endocrine Disruption of Male Reproduction and Child Health”, has published many scientific studies about sunscreen chemicals effect on our hormones. Also, they found that ethylhexyl salicylate / octisalate effects hormones.

In one study they found that the sunscreen chemical affects human sperm function. This is serious as the cell function of male sperm must be precisely regulated to be able to work. In other words, achieve natural fertilization.

Male infertility and declining sperm quality is a global problem. And what the Danish researchers found is that around 50% of all approved UV filters in the EU – including this one – in traditional sunscreens interfere with sperm function. This is alarming as it can cause the sperm to fail at fertilizing the egg.

What the chemical does, is that it interferes by mimicking the effect of the progesterone. Progesterone is a type of steroid hormone that is of importance in the production of sex hormones and for brain function.

In conclusion, this is why we do not consider octisalate /ethylhexyl salicylate pregnancy safe. Neither for men or woman.

2. Is ethylhexyl salicylate /octisalate reef safe?

As we have not found research that backs if octisalate is reef safe or not, the scanner will not tag it as an “environmental hazard”.

However, we would again urge to follow the precautionary principle and avoid products with questionable ingredients such as this one. There are plenty of safe sunscreens using physical sunscreen instead of chemicals.

If you are curious about the differences between physical and chemical sunscreen – find this previous post.

3. Is ethylhexyl salicylate /octisalate allergy causing?

Same goes here, we were not able to find sufficient evidence showing that ethylhexyl salicylate /octisalate is allergy causing. Although there is one Danish study claiming it to be allergenic we don’t consider this enough to draw conclusions. So, until further evidence is found we consider ethylhexyl salicylate allergy not to be a concern.

How is it used?

This is an ingredient mainly used in cosmetics* for its ability to absorb UVB light. It can be found in various products, some including: 

  • Lip balms
  • Creams, lotion, and moisturizers 
  • In products containing fragrance compunds 
  • And of course, sunscreens 

Moreover, the researchers from EDmaRC has found the following quite worrying result. Which might indicate that the UV filtering chemicals, such as ethylhexyl salicylate, might be more prevalent than we expect. 

“Biomonitoring studies show that over 90% of the Danish population excretes UV filters in their urine not only during the summer period but throughout the whole year.

It is caused by the wide industrial use of UV filters, not only in sunscreens but also in many other everyday consumer products, such as personal care products, food packaging, furniture, clothes, detergent, toys, cleansing agents and many others.

Widespread use of UV filters is caused by their unique properties to protect colors from blushing and to protect plastic from melting due to sun exposure.”

Ethylhexyl salicylate / octisalate in sunscreen

Most commonly you will fin ethylhexyl salicylate / octisalate in sunscreens. However, although it can absorb UVB rays, it is not the most effective chemical sunscreen.

This is why you will often find a combination of different UV protecting chemicals within the same formula as octisalate. 

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”.

Read about the other ingredients.


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