One of the country’s biggest drugstore chains just announced big news in the sun safety department: CVS has fully eliminated chemical UV filters oxybenzone and octinoxate from nearly 60 of its store-brand sunscreen products under SPF 50. This comes as the second phase of its safer-sun initiative: In 2017, the company stopped selling skin-care products with an SPF below 15.
So why is this change occurring only in products with less than SPF 50? According to a press release from CVS, at this time, some forms of oxybenzone and octinoxate are still needed in CVS Health sunscreen products with an SPF of 50 and above to be most effective for customers who require this strength of protection. SPF 50+ sunscreens will be available outside of Hawaii and Florida, but removed from shelves in those markets to comply with regulations.
According to New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD, the FDA has contended that SPF higher than 50 is inherently misleading since 2007. “The FDA tried to pass a bill that would limit SPF to 60, but fierce opposition pushed it back. They will try to get it passed in 2021 though,” she explains. “Studies show SPF greater than 50 has hardly any more benefit than SPF 30 or 50 and higher rates of misuse, and it’s worse for the environment. Australia limits SPF to 30, and Europe, 50.”
In regards to oxybenzone and octinoxate specifically, Baton Rouge, LA dermatologist Ann C. Zedlitz, MD says the reason why have gained such a bad rap is because they were shown to bleach coral reefs. “However, this was only shown in a laboratory setting. The amount in the actual waters of Hawaii was shown to be 1,000-fold less than what was shown in a lab to be toxic to coral reefs.”
As such, these findings have proved somewhat controversial with both the cosmetics and marine biology communities. “Until more studies are done, the jury is still out,” Dr. Zedlitz adds. “Although, Hawaii passed a law that goes into effect January 2021 that bans the sale of sunscreens with these two ingredients. Personally, I have always advocated the use of physical sunscreens with zinc and titanium (over chemical), and some protective clothing. My favorite over-the-counter SPF is CeraVe Hydrating Sunscreen Face Lotion SPF 50, which is moisturizing. I also like EltaMD sunscreens sold in physician’s offices.”