Sunscreen Safety Concerns

Last update: April, 2014
RMS Manufactures Safe Sunscreen

A note from one of our customers:

"I believe RMS has more credibility than EWG. I am a college graduate who came from "the back of the pack" and had to learn a lot of college-level English to pass, and I did. After reading the info, I am not afraid to use Oxybenzone. As an aside, the outcome of virtually all human endeavors depends on two essential qualities: ethics and abilities. If one has good ethics, he will do his best. If one also has good abilities, then he will usually succeed. RMS appears to bring both these qualities to their business, and that is not all too common." (Robert, June 2014)

Is Oxybenzone safe?

In recent years, the media has widely publicized reports by a Washington, DC environmental group (The EWG)1 that warns consumers to avoid sunscreens containing organic compounds—including Oxybenzone. These reports have understandably caused confusion—even fear— in the minds of many consumers. Will the sunscreen you've been using really give you cancer or interfere with your hormones? To help you feel more confident in your choice of sunscreen, let's look at some FACTS.

History of Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone has been an FDA-approved sunscreen ingredient since about 1980. Being effective against both UVA and UVB radiation, Oxybenzone works by absorbing UV radiation and then dispelling it as heat. Our sunscreen lotions containing Oxybenzone also bond with your skin to help it breathe and perspire naturally—keeping you cooler during outdoor activities. So if Oxybenzone is so effective, and remains an FDA-approved ingredient after decades of use, why is the EWG telling you to avoid it?

There are two main reasons why the EWG says to avoid Oxybenzone: 1) it may interfere with your hormones; and 2) it may cause cancer. This is understandably a scary-sounding statement. But before going further, note that they (the EWG) are not saying Oxybenzone DOES disrupt hormones or cause cancer, only that it MAY. Let's dig a little deeper to find out where they get these claims.

A Hormone "Disruptor"

To justify this claim, the EWG cites a 2001 study of immature female rats that ingested Oxybenzone placed in their food. In some rats estrogen levels were affected—leading to abnormal uterine growth. To take this bit of research and say that the sunscreen you use will disrupt your hormones seems a stretch. In March of 2011, researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center2 in New York noted that in the rat study, the levels of Oxybenzone exposure the rats received would never be achieved in humans through normal topical use of sunscreen. In fact, to absorb levels equal to the rats in the study, an average adult woman would need to apply sunscreen to her arms, hands, face and neck every day for 277 years3. Although there are a few other studies referenced by the EWG targeting Oxybenzone, as far as we can tell, the extrapolations in all of them seem to be about the same.

Oxybenzone Causes Cancer

The second warning by the EWG is that Oxybenzone can cause cancer. This statement comes from a 2006 study at the University of California, Riverside, where Oxybenzone and other similar chemicals were tested on "laboratory" human skin, or skin grown in a lab. The report suggested that under certain conditions, UV absorbing ingredients found in sunscreen COULD release free radicals, POTENTIALLY causing damage to nearby cells and in THEORY lead to skin cancer. What the EWG fails to mention from the study is that the danger from free radicals could only happen when UV radiation reached sunscreen that had actually "penetrated" the skin. Authors of the study noted that applying sunscreen at regular intervals during sun exposure (like we're supposed to), would avoid this free radical scenario entirely. Kerry M. Hanson, the senior research scientist and lead author of the study also stated: "At this point, I don't think there's enough evidence to firmly claim that sunscreens containing Oxybenzone are unsafe"4. As an added safety measure, Rocky Mountain Sunscreen also includes antioxidants in our formulas as a protection against potential free radical damage caused by UV exposure.

How Others View the EWG

In a 2009 poll of 937 members of the National Society of Toxicology (people who ought to know about toxicity), 79% said the EWG "overstates" the risks of chemicals—including those commonly found in sunscreens. Almost 100% of those same members surveyed also said that the MEDIA (the publicity engine of the EWG) does not distinguish good studies from bad ones.5

In the most recent US Department of Health and Human Services report on carcinogens, which is a list of known or REASONABLY ANTICIPATED human carcinogens, none of the popular sunscreen ingredients black-listed by the EWG are included. 6

Finally, according to the American Skin Cancer Foundation, dermatologists who review the EWG report say their biggest problem with the data is that it lacks scientific rigor. They are critical of the EWG's arbitrary rating system that is "without basis" under any accepted scientific standard. Dr. Warwick Morison, Professor of Dermatology at John Hopkins believes they (the EWG) are "developing their own system for evaluating things" and that relying on their rating scale to say whether a sunscreen is good or bad is equivalent to "junk science".7

What to Conclude

We hope you have found this information helpful. What we've presented to you here is by no means exhaustive information on Oxybenzone. If you still want to know more, we encourage additional research on your part. If you find any information contrary to what we've presented here, please let us know. Our toll-free number is: 1-888-356-8899. We love hearing from our customers.

At Rocky Mountain Sunscreen we believe in our products. And as a whole, our industry is all about sun safety and protecting people from the health risks caused by too much sun exposure. In the future, Oxybenzone may indeed give way to an even better sunscreen ingredient. When that happens, we will embrace it. But until then, the bottom line is that after decades of use, no studies prove, or even suggest that Oxybenzone causes cancer. However, overexposure to the sun over time DOES cause cancer! The most important thing you can do according to skin and cancer experts is to adopt wise sunscreen habits—which of course includes wearing sunscreen.

1Personal Care Products Council statement— "Response to the 2010 EWG Sunscreen Report" (
2 New Your Times health article— "The Claim: A Sunscreen Chemical Can Have Toxic Side Effects" (
3 Study comparing Oxybenzone rat exposure to real life sunscreen use— "Safety of Oxybenzone: Putting Numbers into Perspective" (
4 Skin Cancer Foundation article— "When Sunscreen Safety is Called Into Question" (
5 Society of Toxicology (SOT) member survey— "Are Chemicals Killing Us?" (
6Cancer Council of Western Australia article— "Cancer myth: Sunscreen and Cancer" (http://sta
7 Skin Cancer Foundation article— "When Sunscreen Safety is Called Into Question" (

  • 2009 Toxicologist Survey
  • Survey document where Toxicologists say EWG overstates chemical risks and does not distinguish good studies from bad ones.
  • Real life Comparison to Rat Study
  • Study illustrating of the daily sunscreen application required by an average US woman to reach systemic levels of Oxybenzone per unit of body mass equivalent to those given to immature rats.
  • Sunscreen and Cancer Fact Sheet
  • Covers the list of sunscreen ingredients not listed in the "Report on Carcinogens". This document includes links to relative articles and the actual report data.
  • Sunscreen and ROS-UC Riverside 2006
  • Preliminary study document of the University of California Riverside study on Sunscreen Enhancement of UV-Induced Reactive Oxygen Species in the Skin.

    Independent, respected organizations and experts disagree with claims connected to Oxybenzone: Food & Drug Administration, Health Canada, Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, European Union Cosmetic Ingredient Authority, Skin Cancer Foundation, American Academy of Dermatology, Personal Care Products Council, & Household and Personal Products Industry.
    Who should you trust for advice on product safety: the above credible scientific sources or an activist group with exagerated and hypothetical concerns?