Chemical sunscreens have undergone some major public scrutiny within the last year.
In May of 2018, Hawaii banned all chemical sunscreens deemed dangerous to the coral reef; in February of this year, Key West followed suit, banning the sale of any and all sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate, two ingredients linked to coral bleaching. Now, the scrutiny of the ever-popular product continues, but within an ecosystem much more troubling: the human bloodstream.
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In a study published in the medical journal JAMA, researchers found that certain ingredients common within chemical sunscreens took only one day of use to enter the bloodstream at levels high enough to prompt a government safety investigation. Four ingredients were studied—avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene—and as CNN.com notes, the blood concentration of three of the four ingredients continued to rise as daily use continued, and then remained in the bloodstream for at least 24 hours after use of the sunscreen ended.
However, experts agree this study isn’t enough to entirely shift the industry’s view on the product. “It’s not news that things that you put on your skin are absorbed into the body,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. “This study is the FDA’s way of showing sunscreen manufacturers they need to do the studies to see if chemical absorption poses health risks.” Additionally, Eagan, MN dermatologist Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD says more research needs to be done to determine if the study has any significant health ramifications. “Until additional research is done, I am not changing my recommendations on sun protection measures and sunscreen use in my patients.” Washington, DC dermatologist Tina Alster, MD agrees: “I have long advocated the use of physical sun blocks (with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) rather than chemical sunscreens (with oxybenzone) for my patients due to concerns about the safety of chemicals on the skin of individuals with allergies (higher risk of dermatitis) as well as on the environment (risk of bleaching or destruction of coral reefs).”
New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD adds, “In this preliminary study where high levels of sunscreen were applied to 75% of the body, low levels of chemical sunscreen filters were shown to be absorbed through the skin. In the real world, consumers do not apply as much sunscreen as they should and they reapply every two hours. So, it is unclear whether there is absorption with every day, real world usage. We need more data to understand this issue fully. Based on what we know today, the benefit of wearing sunscreen in protecting the skin against skin cancer and premature aging outweighs the potential risks. If anyone is concerned with the use of chemical blocker sunscreens, mineral options that contain zinc oxide alone or in combination with titanium dioxide are a great option.”