Oxybenzone and Retinyl Palmitate in Sunscreen

best and worst sunscreenThere are more suncreen products than ever available offering all sorts of protections and making all sort of SPF claims. But how do you know what you’re getting actually works and might not be damaging in other ways?


Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) is pale-yellow solid organic compound belonging to the class of aromatic ketones known as benzophenones. It’s used as a component in many sunscreen lotions. Oxybenzone was initially used (and is still used) in plastics as an ultraviolet light absorber and stabilizer to help prevent potential damage from sunlight exposure. Benzophenones have been shown to leach from food packaging.

As of the most widely used organic UVA filters in sunscreens today, oxybenzone provides coverage from UVB and short-wave UVA rays. Yet controversy over possible hormonal (as an endocrine disruptor) and photoallergenic effects have led many countries to regulate its use. Oxybenzone is associated with allergic reactions triggered by sun exposure. 

In a 2008 study, oxybenzone was detected in 96.8% of urine samples. Tests indicate humans can absorb anywhere from 0.4% to 8.7% of oxybenzone after one application of sunscreen. This number can increase after multiple applications over the same period of time.

Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is a synthetic alternate for retinyl acetate. It’s commonly used as a vitamin supplement for treatment of vitamin A deficiency. It’s also used as an antioxidant and a source of vitamin A added to replace the vitamin content lost through the removal of milk fat. Retinyl palmitate is also found in some skin care products. After absorption into the skin, it’s converted to retinol, and ultimately to retinoic acid.

High doses of topical retinyl palmitate have been shown to accelerate cancer in lab animals. A technical report issued by the National Toxicology Program concluded both retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate exacerbated the rate and frequency of skin tumors in mice.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

There’s currently regulation in the work to cap SPF numbers at 50, with the FDA stating anything higher is “inherently misleading.” In 2016, 61 sunscreen products claimed an SPF higher than 50. It’s it says higher than 50, it’s an unsubstantiated claim.

Best Sunscreens

Here are 10 sunscreens designated low hazard for their ingredient list and because they had a good balance of SPF and UVA protection.

General Use

  • All Good Sunscreen and Sunstick, SPF 30 and 50
  • All Terrain Aqua and TerraSport Sunscreens, SPF 30
  • Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Badger Sunscreen Cream and Lotion, SPF 25, 30, and 35
  • Bare Belly Organics, SPF 34
  • Beauty Without Cruelty, SPF 30
  • Kiss My Face Organics Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Nature’s Gate Face Sunscreen, SPF 25
  • Tropical Sands Sunscreen and Facestick, SPF 30
  • Releve Organic Skincare, SPF 20

For Kids

  • Adorable Baby Sunscreen lotion, SPF 30
  • All Good Kid’s Sunscreen, SPF 33
  • All Terrain KidSport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
  • ATTITUDE Little Ones 100% Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • BabyHampton Beach Bum Sunscreen, SPF 30

Sunscreens to Avoid

These sunscreens made high SPF claims or had higher amounts of oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate:

  • Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100**
  • Coppertone Water Babies Sunscreen Stick, Wacky Foam, and Sunscreen lotion, SPF 55
  • CVS Baby Sunstick Sunscreen and Spray, SPF 55
  • Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55
  • Hampton Sun Continuous Mist Sunscreen For Kids, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray and Stick products, SPF 70
  • Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55


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