In March 2021, researchers from the Oceanological Observatory of Banyuls-sur-Mer (Sorbonne University, CNRS), in collaboration with their American colleagues from the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Clifford, Virginia, tested some sunscreen and anti-aging products purchased in France and in the USA. The products have undergone a 6-week accelerated stability aging protocol, equivalent to one year spent at room temperature. Then they were analyzed using a high-performance mass spectrometer.
“Initially, there is very little benzophenone in the products. But gradually as the product ages, there is more and more benzophenone,” told Prof. Philippe Lebaron, co-author of the study, to AFP. Indeed, after subjecting the products to the accelerated stability method, the concentration in benzophenone strongly increased in the products. "This is the first time the degradation of octocrylene into benzophenone has been demonstrated," added Pr. Lebaron.
Working with researchers at the Paris-based Sorbonne University, Downs and Joe DiNardo, a toxicologist who formerly worked in the cosmetics industry, tested 16 octocrylene-based sunscreens purchased in France and the U.S. All of them tested positive for benzophenone.
Downs and DiNardo’s findings were published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology in March. Later, Belgian researchers published similar results after testing products containing octocrylene.
Based on animal studies, the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm classifies benzophenone as a possible carcinogen. Research shows that benzophenone in sunscreens can interfere with estrogen, according to the WHO. The hormone plays a key role in the health of women and disrupting it can lead to early puberty and altered functioning of reproductive organs.
Downs’ study suggests that benzophenone was formed by degradation of octocrylene. Only sunscreens containing the UV blocker tested positive for the contaminant, and the levels increased over time. Downs has been studying the health and environmental impact of sunscreens for years. His research led Hawaii and other beach tourist destinations such as the U.S. Virgin Islands to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, which is chemically related to benzophenone and octocrylene, because of research suggesting damage to coral reefs.
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