Researchers call on FDA to pull octocrylene-containing sunscreens from shelves

Haereticus Environmental Laboratory cited research suggesting octocrylene can degrade to possible carcinogen benzophenone in a letter to the US regulatory body

Scientists have called on the US’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to pull certain sunscreens from the market following the discovery of a possible carcinogen related to the use of octocrylene.

Craig Downs, who is Executive Director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, led researchers in a letter to the regulatory body asking that products containing the sunscreen material be removed from sale after a study, published by Downs et al earlier this year in Chemical Research in Toxicology, found that octocrylene could degrade to benzophenone through a retro-aldol reaction.

Benzophenone is a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor.

Octocrylene is a widely used chemical sunscreen that absorbs UV in both the UVB and UVA portions of the solar spectrum. It is photostable and has the added benefit of stabilising the notoriously unstable UVA absorber avobenzone, meaning the two are often used in conjunction.

According to Downs’ report, titled 'Benzophenone Accumulates over Time from the Degradation of Octocrylene in Commercial Sunscreen Products', in the US, 2,999 SPF products contained octocrylene in 2019.

But the ingredient has come under fire in recent years; in 2019, the FDA proposed that of the 16 active ingredients currently allowed in sunscreen in the US only two – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are ‘generally recognised safe and effective’. Two were no longer recognised as safe, while the remaining 12, including octocrylene, were said to require additional data.

Furthermore, the ingredient’s toxicity to certain aquatic organisms has seen it join oxybenzone and octinoxate on the list of sunscreen ingredients banned in Hawaii.

The sale of sun care skus containing octocrylene and avobenzone will be illegal in the state from 1 January 2023.