WHAT IS IT? Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA) is an antioxidant that is considered by some as a B-complex vitamin, but in actual fact is an amino acid that is part of the structure of folic acid. PABA is used in a variety of ways, including topically as a reflective agent in many commercial sunscreens and orally to darken the hair of the elderly and treat constipation and vitiligo, which is a loss of pigmentation of random spots on the skin.
HEALTH RISK: A once-common sunscreen ingredient but now avoided due to allergic dermatitis and photo-sensitivity, PABA can lead to a variety of skin abnormalities when applied topically, ranging from discoloration to cancer. Typically, PABA is applied topically when using sunscreen and, whilst it protects against carcinoma, it does not protect the skin from melanoma. Additionally, PABA contributes to the release of oxygenated free radicals, which can lead to deepened skin pigmentation in the best of cases and skin cancer in the worst of cases. PABA has also been known to cause skin redness, irritation and itching.
WHAT TO DO: The whole purpose of sunscreen is to prevent your skin from getting damaged from the sun’s rays, not to enhance your skin’s vulnerability. When selecting a sunscreen next summer, make sure to opt for a PABA-free product. Put your money into something that works.
Non-toxic alternatives to try: We love mineral SPFs that are PABA free like La Roche Posey’s Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid ($33) or California Baby’s SPF 30+ Everyday/Year-round Sunscreen Lotion ($20).