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Are Chemical Sunscreens Dangerous? – FDA Investigation Continues

by kelly / January, 29 2020 01:30

Photo of a sunscreen lotion being squeezed from a tube onto a person's hand

Chemical sunscreens are making it into the headlines again. A new study by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that six chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream at high levels. While here at Block Island Organics we sell mineral ONLY sunscreens, we feel it’s important to update consumers on all types of sunscreen news and trends. The more informed you are the better decisions you can make for your skin.

Chemical Sunscreens Found in Bloodstream

Back in mid-2019 the FDA conducted an initial investigation into four chemical sunscreen ingredients: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule. The study found that all four were absorbed from the skin into the bloodstream after one day of use. Important to note, the study did not say if these levels are dangerous or not. Further investigation is needed to determine that.

You can read more about this earlier study here in our post: “US FDA Investigates Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients”.

Recently the FDA re-evaluated three of the original four chemical UV filters – avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene – and added homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate to its study. Again after a single application all six of these ingredients were found in the bloodstream.

Chemical Sunscreen Levels Above Thresholds

On day one the participants applied sunscreen to 75% of their bodies and after this single application, the concentration levels of these chemicals in the blood surpassed FDA testing thresholds for most study participants - thresholds that dictate whether or not additional testing is required but do not test safety specifically.

On days two through four, the participants were then asked to apply the same amount but do it four times a day. For most participants, the thresholds continued to be exceeded.

On days five through twenty-one sunscreen was not applied but their blood was checked for the presence of the chemical sunscreen ingredients. The concentration of the six chemical UV filters in the blood still exceeded the FDA’s thresholds through day seven for most participants and all chemicals, well after application had ended. Additionally, octocrylene exceeded the threshold for 10 days and homosalate and oxybenzone were still above the thresholds after 21 days for most participants.

As a result the FDA wants chemical sunscreen manufacturers to do further safety testing of these ingredients. And the sunscreen industry wants to work with the FDA to figure out what additional studies are needed to ensure the safety of these six ingredients.

Should You Avoid Chemical Sunscreens?

I’m sure the big question after seeing this study is should you avoid chemical sunscreens? Well it’s complicated and a decision I think everyone needs to make for themselves (FYI – mineral only sunscreens are a great alternative). But here’s what I can say.

While it doesn’t sound great that chemical sunscreens end up in our blood – the study and the prior one didn’t study whether having chemical sunscreens in our blood is safe or not.

As Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, the arm of the FDA which conducted the studies, explains:

“The fact that an ingredient is absorbed through the skin and into the body doesn't mean that particular ingredient is unsafe… Rather, this finding calls for further industry testing to determine the safety and effect of systemic exposure of sunscreen ingredients, especially with chronic use.”

The summary is that there is uncertainty around the safety of chemical sunscreens and more studies need to be conducted.

But something that is certain that both dermatologists and the FDA agrees on is the link between skin cancer and skin aging and the sun. The FDA still recommends sun protection including wearing sunscreen, seeking shade during peak sun hours, and wearing protective clothing and accessories.

To Be Safe Choose A Mineral Sunscreen

If you want to avoid chemical UV filters and still wear sunscreen there is an easy solution. Choose a mineral sunblock.

Of course make sure your sunscreen is truly a mineral sunscreen. Some sunscreens marketed as mineral sometimes contain chemical UV filters as well. Always check the label of your sunscreen. If you want a mineral ONLY sunblock – the only active ingredients that should be listed are zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

Just a friendly reminder our Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 and our Natural Face Moisturizer SPF 30 are mineral ONLY and use zinc oxide only.

Suncare Smarts

I know that’s a lot of information to digest. But the bottom line is don’t stop wearing sunscreen or practicing good sun protection habits. And if you have any concerns on chemical sunscreens opt for a mineral ONLY sunblock.

Of course as more information comes out on the safety of chemical sunscreens, I’ll be sure to update you all. So come back frequently to our Suncare Smarts blog series.

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