By Carla Burns and Emily Ion Kosuge, Environmental Working Group
CVS, one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, recently announced it will phase out two common sunscreen ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate, from many of its store-brand sun-protection products. CVS cited the changing needs of its customers, concern for marine ecosystems and the desire to stay ahead of state-level chemical bans.
Oxybenzone is one of the most commonly used sunscreen active ingredients and is found in nearly two-thirds of nonmineral sunscreens assessed by EWG in 2019. Oxybenzone and octinoxate have been associated with negative health effects in humans and harm to the environment. Oxybenzone has been linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive health issues and allergic skin reactions.
CVS plans to eliminate the two chemicals by the end of 2020 to coincide with scheduled bans in Hawaii and Florida. Hawaii and Key West have announced plans to ban the sale of products with these ingredients out of concern for the health of coral reefs.
Despite the concerns, the two chemicals will remain in some brands’ products on CVS store shelves and in CVS Health Brand sunscreens with SPF values of 50 and above. CVS says it has not yet found a substitute that provides adequate coverage and protection in higher SPF sunscreens.
EWG recommends that people avoid products with oxybenzone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention routinely detect the chemical in the bodies of almost all Americans tested. A 2016 study found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements in their body had significantly lower total testosterone.
Earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration raised concerns about oxybenzone, citing the potential for skin absorption and the increased susceptibility of children. A recent FDA study found elevated concentrations of oxybenzone in the bodies of study participants after a single application of a sunscreen containing the ingredient. The FDA study shows the importance and need for continued research of the safety of ingredients used in sunscreen products and cosmetics.
EWG applauds CVS for this partial phaseout of products with oxybenzone and octinoxate. But we urge the company to ban these other ingredients of concern from the entire line of CVS health products. In the meantime, EWG reminds shoppers to follow these tips when choosing sunscreen products:
- Choose a mineral-based product. These contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients.
- Pick a product with an SPF between 15 and 50+. According to the FDA, products with higher SPFs are inherently misleading, and could encourage people to stay in the sun too long.
- Avoid spray products to reduce inhalation concerns. Choose lotions or creams instead.
- Reapply sunscreen often – at least every two hours, and more frequently if you get in water or towel off.
- Remember that sunscreen is just one part of sun protection. It’s important to wear hats, sunglasses, and shirts; to find or make your own shade; and to avoid peak midday sun.