We have heard about the importance of sunscreen so often, from dermatologists, aestheticians, influencers, friends and family, that we now believe sunscreens are a god sent and your best bet to protect your skin from cancer. But a recent study is going to question all that good faith you put in your everyday sunscreen. According to the study, several active ingredients found in sunscreen are absorbed into the body and subsequently end up in bloodstreams. These ingredients are potentially dangerous and have the possibility of being carcinogenic.
Published in the American Medical Association had worked with twenty-four study subjects and put them different forms of sunscreen – sprays, lotions, cream – for the duration of four days. An identical amount of sunscreen was put on 75% of their skin four times a day. ( This also happens to be the maximum application recommended by sunscreen brands.) Each subject was then asked to give thirty blood samples and all four of the active ingredients contained in the sunscreen showed in the subjects’ blood test results.
The active ingredients in question, avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule was found present in the study subject’s blood. Could this be of risk? Potentially, yes. Each ingredient was measured at greater than 0.5 nanograms per mL of blood, a level that regulatory officials have established may be linked to higher cancer risk in animals. Further studies will need to be done to determine whether human health can be affected by absorbing products that measure at those levels.
Here’s what this could mean for us. “The study conditions are not likely in real life,” says Amy Forman Taub, founder of Advanced Dermatology in Lincolnshire, Illinois. “It would be as if, on your beach vacation, you used an entire 8 oz bottle of sunscreen per day per person. Also, we don’t know that the level being higher than that recommended by the FDA is actually harmful. However, if you are concerned about these findings, I would recommend the use of mineral only (chemical free) sunscreens that contain only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, until further data is available. These minerals have been found by many studies not to penetrate through the surface of the skin into the bloodstream.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation also weighed in on the study results, “The Skin Cancer Foundation has always made recommendations based on the latest and best scientific evidence available. The sunscreen ingredients currently FDA-approved have been used in the U.S. for many years, and there is no evidence that these ingredients are harmful to humans. There is, however, substantial evidence showing that sunscreen helps reduce skin cancer risk, as well as skin aging. In fact, the study authors reiterate that people should continue to use sunscreen. Daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by about 40 percent and melanoma by 50 percent. It’s estimated that nearly 3.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, SCC or basal cell carcinoma in 2019. Most of these cancers will be the result of sustained UV damage, which is why The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practices daily sun protection. There’s simply no justification for abandoning sun-safe behaviors. For those consumers who are concerned about chemical sunscreen ingredients, they can choose products with the mineral ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Out of an abundance of caution, pregnant and nursing women may want to consider using mineral sunscreens as well. It should be noted that products only containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not a perfect solution, as they may not achieve high SPF (sun protection factor), broad-spectrum protection. They also may not be as cosmetically elegant as chemical sunscreens and can leave a whitish cast. Americans deserve more choices, which is why the Foundation continues to support efforts to encourage the FDA to approve the use of new UV filters that are currently available outside the U.S.”
So what do we conclude out of this? Sunscreens are important. Keep using that sunscreen.