Chemicals In Sunscreen May Enter Blood

We’ve all been told how important sunscreen is to our skin. Before we step out into the sun, we’ve been sold the idea that sun protection is key not only to our current skin condition but also to the future health of our skin.

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In fact, applying sunscreen isn’t just something we do before we hit the beaches. Lathering on SPF has in fact become such a part and parcel of everyday life, be it before we go to school or work. Most of us make little distinction about the type of sunscreens we put on our face, in fact most will go for a texture that they like rather than look closely at the ingredients.

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But according to new research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the chemicals in our sunscreen don’t merely sit on top of our skin until we rinse it off. Instead, many of the active ingredients enter our bloodstream at levels far in excess of what was previously believed.  In a report published Monday in peer-reviewed journal JAMA, researchers found that after applying chemical sunscreen spray, lotion and cream containing avobenzone, ecamsule, octocrylene, and oxybenzone, there is a “systemic absorption of sunscreen active ingredients” well beyond the FDA’s recommended limits. And while it remains unclear what the effect of this seepage into our bloodstream is, the data supports a need for further FDA investigation to determine exactly what the health impact of these findings are.

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While it was previously assumed that these chemical sunscreen ingredients intended to work on the surface of the skin wouldn’t be absorbed, but they are.

In our ongoing fight against skin cancer which affects an estimated 3.3 million people per year—we have applied vast amounts of sunscreen without having tested what the health impact could be.

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Oxybenzone, an ingredient found in chemical sunscreen in particular, reached the plasma concentration threshold a mere two hours after a single application and exceeded 20 ng/mL by the seventh day of the study. What makes this alarming is that the lingering presence of the sun-filtering molecules in the bloodstream remains a mystery in terms of what—if anything—this means for our bodies.

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While further studies are under way to determine whether systemic absorption of sunscreen poses risks to human health and to investigate the effects of different sunscreen formulations, clinical characteristics (ie, skin type, age, presence of skin diseases that disrupt the skin barrier), physical activity level, and exposure to sun and water on systemic sunscreen levels, it is recommended we take a cautious approach when it comes to chemical sunscreen use.

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If the research gives you pause, however, a wide array of natural mineral based sunscreens are currently on the market. Physical sunscreen formulations containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can be alternatives. Protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses can also be used to minimize exposure to carcinogenic. So in the meantime, stay safe and stay skin-smart!

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1. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Guidance for industry: nonprescription sunscreen drug products–safety and effectiveness data November 2016. <>. Accessed 27 December 2016. []

2. Food and Drug Administration, HHS. Labeling and effectiveness testing: sunscreen drug products for over-the-counter human use: final rule. Fed. Regist 76, 35620–35665 (2011). [PubMed] []

3. Nash JF Human safety and efficacy of ultraviolet filters and sunscreen products. Dermatol. Clin 24, 35–51 (2006). [PubMed] []

4. Jansen R, Wang SQ, Burnett M, Osterwalder U & Lim HW Photoprotection, part I: photoprotection by naturally occurring, physical, and systemic agents. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 69, 853. e1–853.e12; quiz 65–6 (2013). [PubMed] []

5. Klimová Z, Hojerová J & Beránková M Skin absorption and human exposure estimation of three widely discussed UV filters in sunscreens: in vitro study mimicking real-life consumer habits. Food Chem. Toxicol 83, 237–250 (2015). [PubMed] []

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