A study published in the medical journal JAMA reveals that sunscreen ingredients can seep into your bloodstream after only one day of use. In the study, Dr. Murali K. Matta and his team found plasma concentration of the active ingredients to be more than 0.5 ng/ml, which is the FDA approved optimal toxic level for sunscreen ingredients.
“No prior data on plasma concentration of sunscreen ingredient accumulation was available,” Matta tells Parentology. “This study was done to show that clinical trials need to be performed to ascertain the safety of these ingredients.”
The four active ingredients of sunscreen — oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule — were tested on 24 healthy volunteers as part of a clinical trial carried out by the FDA. These volunteers put sunscreen on 75 percent of their bodies, four times a day, for four days.
So what are the dangers of these sunscreen chemicals in your blood? The truth is, we don’t know.
“Studies need to be performed to evaluate this finding and determine whether there are true medical implications to absorption of certain ingredients,” Yale School of Medicine dermatologist Dr. David Leffell, a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology, told CNN.
Benefits and Dangers of Sunscreen Chemicals
Here are some statistics every person — particularly parents — should know.
- Almost 1 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year
- 50% of cancer diagnoses are skin cancer
- Skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer
As you probably know, exposure to intense sunlight is a major cause of skin cancer. So, doctors, healthcare providers and researchers around the world advise people to use sunscreen aggressively when outside.
Matta notes that this study should not prompt people to stop using sunscreen. As of now the benefits of sunscreen far outweigh any known problems. The study is to highlight the need for widespread clinical trials to test for possible side effects of active sunscreen ingredients.
Reported Ill Effects of Oxybenzone
Environmentalists have been crying foul of using oxybenzone for quite some time. It is said to be harmful to the coral reefs. In May of last year, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which cause coral bleaching when washed off swimmers’ bodies.
Oxybenzone is also believed to:
- Affect hormonal growth in young adults
- Induce allergies
- Accumulate in breastmilk
Using Mineral-based Sunscreens
Cosmetics companies are definitely aware of the issues. In 2015, The Honest Company launched a mineral-based sunscreen for kids. Company owner and spokesperson, Jessica Alba, even went on the media circuit to promote the product. But customers started reporting serious issues within months. Though the company did not come out with a full disclosure, experts believe the sunscreen might have been ineffectual because of reduced mineral concentration, a thin base, and improper usage instructions.
What the FDA Is Doing
For a long time — it wasn’t much. After the initial approval of 16 sunscreen active ingredients in 1970, the FDA has finally come out with a set of proposed regulations after a gap of almost 40 years. According to these guidelines issued on February 21, 2019:
- Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide are the only 2 ingredients that can be generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE)
- PABA and trolamine salicylate are not GRASE ingredients
- Of the remaining 12 ingredients, industry and other interested parties must collect and provide more data
Sunscreen research in the US is far behind other regions like Europe and Asia. Groups like the non-profit Environmental Working Group have noted that European sunscreen ingredients Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M are UVA filters that appear to be much stronger and more photostable than avobenzone. They said, “The European Commission examined Tinosorb S in 1999 (SCCNFP 1999) and Tinosorb M last year (SCCS 2013), and determined that both sunscreens could safely be used in sunscreens in concentrations of up to 10 percent.”
The study published in JAMA is a step in that direction for US companies. While these studies are being conducted and their results debated, we must continue using the best possible sunscreen option for both our children and ourselves as protection against various skin diseases caused by exposure to sunlight.