What is Octyl Methoxycinnamate?

Known also as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or octinoxate, Octyl Methoxycinnamate (OMC) is an organic compound that is commonly found in sunscreens, nail polish, hair, skin and color cosmetics to protect from UVB rays. Octinoxate dissolves in oil, which makes it a fat-seeking substance in the body. It is formed by combining methoxycinnamic acid and 2-ethylhexanol- compounds which are not harmful on their own. When mixed together, they form a clear liquid that does not dissolve in water.

Is it safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves OMC as safe to use in products in quantities up to 7.5%. Still, there has been speculation over the side effects of this ingredient. One study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed the production of damaging free radicals detected on films after using a commercial sunscreen containing avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate after UV exposure. Another concern is the possibility that OMC causes endocrine disruptions, which can interfere with hormones. High doses given in animal studies have shown developmental and reproductive effects.

So what’s the verdict?

Many experts, including the FDA, have concluded that it is safe as long as it’s within the 7.5% range. The Environmental Working Group, a group that rates ingredients based on "published scientific literature, to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government," rates OMC as a moderate concern for its link to endocrine disruption.

UV Protection and your hair

UV protection does not stop at your skin, exposure to the sun can lead to dry hair, frizz, and faded color. As a result OMC is an ingredient found in several brands to protect the hair from UV rays and offer heat protection from hot tools, here is a list of products that contain OMC.

Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat/UV Protective Primer

Spraying this multitasking primer into your strands will not only protect you from UV heat damage but it also tames frizz. Infused with grapeseed, safflower seed, sweet almond, macadamia nut, and coconut oils to make your hair soft, smooth and less tangled. Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate is added to help protect hair from the drying effects of the sun. Spray it into wet hair prior to sun exposure.

Neutrogena Triple Moisture Silk Touch Leave-In Hair Cream

This affordable leave-in option moisturizes while diminishing flyaways and frizz. With the help of olive, meadowfoam seed and sweet almond extract it improves hair texture and manageability. It also offers humidity protection and contains UV filters. Apply as your styler after washing or to refresh hair as needed.

Living Proof Restore Instant Protection

Using this weightless spray protects against heat styling, humidity, and UV rays. It can be used on both damp and dry hair for heat styling and on dry hair for 24 hour UV ray protection. Great for all hair types including colored and chemically treated and it’s free of sulfates, silicones, and oils.

Nios SPF 15 Leave-In Conditioner

This SPF 15 leave-in conditioner also contains Moroccan argan oil, vitamins and wheat protein to protect the scalp from sunburn and hair color while nourishing the hair. Can be applied to both wet and dry hair. Distribute through hair for color protection and apply to scalp for scalp protection.

Quintessence Q-Sunshade Leave In Hair Conditioner and Scalp Protectant SPF 30

According to their website, this multi-function broad spectrum scalp sunscreen SPF 30 contains Green Tea Extract and Vitamin E, combined with a high-quality leave in conditioner that leaves hair silky soft, manageable and non-greasy. Provides UV protection against sun damage and protects the delicate scalp area in thinning hair. Apply to exposed areas of the scalp after shampooing and prior to going outdoors. For hair conditioning, work the product evenly into your hair after shampooing and rinsing.

As with all ingredients, it is a personal decision as to whether you will avoid certain chemicals or none at all, or make an effort to use all-natural alternatives. Those who prefer to avoid chemicals altogether should know that chemical sunscreens are not your only option. A physical sunscreen like zinc oxide provides protection from both UVA and UVB exposure without the use of chemicals. As for your hair, you can always choose to cover your hair with a physical barrier like a hat or scarf.