While there are instances where sunscreen may be prudent, these products are widely overused and contribute to widespread vitamin D deficiency. In my view, sunscreen is rarely needed, provided you’re following sensible sun exposure guidelines to prevent burning. Simply get out of the sun or wear clothing the moment your skin starts to turn light pink.
That said, conventional guidance by the American Academy of Dermatology1 stresses the use of sunscreen, not only when lying on the beach but every single day, regardless of weather or skin pigmentation. Aside from promoting vitamin D deficiency, which has a long list of health consequences, sunscreen use may also be a source of toxic exposure.
Pilot Study Confirms Your Body Absorbs Toxins From Sunscreens
A pilot study2,3,4,5 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows four commonly used active ingredients in sunscreen are absorbed into your blood at levels that could potentially pose health risks. The four active ingredients looked in this study were avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule.
Twenty-four participants were asked to apply 2 milligrams (mg) of sunscreen per square centimeter over 75% of their body, using either one of two sprays, a lotion or a cream. This amount equates to the maximum recommended dose recommended by most makers of sunscreen.
A total of 30 blood samples were collected from each participant over seven days of application. The geometric mean maximum plasma concentrations were as follows for each of the chemicals:6
- Avobenzone — 4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) for spray No.1; 3.4 ng/mL for spray No. 2; 4.3 ng/mL for lotion and 1.8 ng/mL for the cream
- Oxybenzone — 209.6 ng/mL for spray No. 1; 194.9 ng/mL for spray No. 2, and 169.3 ng/mL for lotion
- Octocrylene, — 2.9 ng/mL for spray No. 1; 7.8 ng/mL for spray No. 2; 5.7 ng/mL for lotion, and 5.7 ng/mL for cream
- Ecamsule — 1.5 ng/mL for cream
According to the authors:7
“Systemic concentrations greater than 0.5 ng/mL were reached for all 4 products after 4 applications on day 1. The most common adverse event was rash, which developed in 1 participant with each sunscreen.
In this preliminary study involving healthy volunteers, application of 4 commercially available sunscreens under maximal use conditions resulted in plasma concentrations that exceeded the threshold established by the FDA for potentially waiving some nonclinical toxicology studies for sunscreens …
FDA has provided guidance that sunscreen active ingredients with systemic absorption greater than 0.5 ng/mL or with safety concerns should undergo nonclinical toxicology assessment including systemic carcinogenicity and additional developmental and reproductive studies.”
Continue Using Sunscreen, FDA Says, Ignoring Potential Health Risks of Oxybenzone
While it comes as no surprise that toxic chemicals are being absorbed into your blood when applied to your skin, what’s shocking is the FDA’s guidance in light of the results — continue using sunscreen!8
This, despite the fact that all four chemicals were found to enter the bloodstream at levels above the presumed “safe” level after a single day of application, and remained in the system for at least 24 hours after last use. Just what might the ramifications be if you’re using them every single day, year-round?
Research9 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in 2008 found 96.8% of the 2,517 urine samples collected as part of the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey had detectable levels of oxybenzone, which is a testament to just how much sunscreen people are using. And this data is 15 years old. It is likely far worse now.
Dr. David Strauss, director of the division of applied regulatory science at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation Research and co-author of the FDA pilot study, told Time,10 “This supports the need for further studies to understand the clinical significance of this. We really have a paucity of data on whether there are adverse health effects of these ingredients or not.”
Dermatologist and spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. David Leffell, echoed the FDA’s recommendation, telling CNN Health,11 “Studies need to be performed to evaluate this finding and determine whether there are true medical implications to absorption of certain ingredients. [In the meantime, people should] continue to be aggressive about sun protection."