What is Avobenzone?

Lainie Petersen

Avobenzone is a chemical sunscreen ingredient also known as Parsol 1789 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane that was introduced to the skincare market in 1981. It is one of the few sunscreens, along with titanium oxide, zinc oxide and Mexoryl SX, that offers full spectrum UVA protection against sun damage. In addition to being an active ingredient in sunblock formulas, avobenzone can also be found in other skin and body care products, including hand creams, moisturizers, and makeup foundations.

Foundation containing avobenzone.
Foundation containing avobenzone.

While many sunscreens offer protection against UVB rays, the sun radiation that causes sunburn and contributes to skin cancer, they do not always provide adequate protection against UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin, and contribute to both skin aging as well as cancer. Avobenzone provides this protection, and is typically combined with sunscreens such as octyl methoxycinnamate, which blocks UVB radiation, in cosmetic and sunblock formulas. Avobenzone differs from zinc oxide and titanium oxide in that it is a chemical sunblock that absorbs radiation before it can cause damage to the skin. Zinc and titanium oxide are physical sunscreens that actually reflect the sun's rays from the skin rather than absorbing them.

The Sun is the source of UVA and UVB rays, which can damage skin.
The Sun is the source of UVA and UVB rays, which can damage skin.

There has been some controversy over the use of avobenzone, as some have argued that it degrades in sunlight, compromising its usefulness as a sunscreen. Some of these researchers have suggested that avobenzone can be modified, or combined with other ingredients, to make it more stable. Other experts claim that other studies show that avobenzone is a stable ingredient, and that it has proved its effectiveness over decades of use. Individuals who have a preference for one type of sunscreen over another should read product labels carefully in order to discern which ingredients are used in a particular formula.

A broad spectrum sunscreen that contains avobenzone works to block UVA rays.
A broad spectrum sunscreen that contains avobenzone works to block UVA rays.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people use a sunscreen that provides protection against a broad spectrum of sun rays, and that the sunscreen should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. The American Academy of Dermatology further recommends that sunscreen be applied on a daily basis, not just when someone is going to the beach or to an outdoor event, then reapplied at two-hour intervals, to all parts of the body that are exposed to the sun. Other skin care experts, including the medical staff at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, advise the use of sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30.

Avobenzone is an active ingredient in some sunblock formulas, which may help prevent sunburn.
Avobenzone is an active ingredient in some sunblock formulas, which may help prevent sunburn.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, people with fair skin should wear sunglasses and a hat when at the beach.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, people with fair skin should wear sunglasses and a hat when at the beach.
Not all sunscreens provide adequate protection against UVA rays.
Not all sunscreens provide adequate protection against UVA rays.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people use sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people use sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15.

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