Sunscreen and Toxins: Is Your Sun Protection Dangerous?

Sunscreen and Toxins: Is Your Sun Protection Dangerous?

( – Dermatologists recommend that we use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF rating any time we go out in the sun. Sunscreens protect against sunburn, premature aging and cancer. But is that protection safe to use? What happens to the chemicals when they’re absorbed into the body? The FDA wants answers. Here’s what we do know.

Types of Sunscreen

There are many different brands of sun protection on the market today. They all fit into two main categories: chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens.

Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, much like a sponge, before they can damage the skin. Many people prefer chemical sunscreens because they’re easier to rub in and don’t leave a white residue, although they contain ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in some users. These include:

  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Octisalate
  • Avobenzone
  • Oxybenzone

Physical sunscreens are also called sunblocks or mineral sunscreens. Instead of absorbing the sun’s rays like chemical products, these act more like a shield, coating the surface of the skin and deflecting the sun. Physical sunscreens work better for people with sensitive skin. They also may be safer because they don’t get absorbed into the body. This type of protection contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

Did the FDA Say Sunscreens Are Unsafe?

No, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t say sunscreens are unsafe. What it said was more testing was needed on the safety of several ingredients in them. We’ve used many of these ingredients in the US for years, but the FDA is proposing a new rule that requires manufacturers to provide more data on them.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, both chemical and physical sunscreens have been tested and are generally considered safe and effective. But there is some concern over a few of the ingredients that have been detected in blood and urine tests.

The FDA wants more data about the extent to which sunscreen ingredients are absorbed into the body. And the agency is examining whether these products have any adverse effects on overall health.

Sunscreen in the Body

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) attempted to answer these questions. In the study, 24 healthy people used one of four sunscreens. The participants were told to apply theirs four times every day for four days. The researchers then took 30 blood samples over a week.

The FDA says any ingredient that’s absorbed into the body at more than 0.5 nanograms per milliliter of blood needs to be studied to see if it causes birth defects, cancer or other negative effects. The JAMA study looked at several standard components in sunscreen: ecamsule, octocrylene, oxybenzone, and avobenzone. All four of them were found in the blood tests at concentrations that passed the nanogram threshold. Researchers also found that the chemicals accumulated in the body with continued use.

These results don’t prove sunscreen is harmful. The amounts absorbed could be completely safe. Considering how long these sunscreens have been used without reports of problems, they’re probably harmless. However, that doesn’t mean the absorption effects shouldn’t be investigated. They definitely should.

For now, according to the Environmental Working Group, people might want to steer clear of sunscreens that contain certain chemicals, such as aminobenzoic acid and trolamine salicylate. Another chemical consumers may want to avoid is oxybenzone. This compound appears to be an endocrine disruptor, which means it may alter reproductive and thyroid hormone levels.

The Bottom Line

Chemicals from sunscreens can find their way into blood, urine, and breast milk, so it is possible that they could cause long-term health issues. So far, there’s not enough research to determine whether they’re dangerous to humans. We do know, though, how dangerous the sun is.

For now, consider sunscreen safe to use — but also be aware of other ways you can protect yourself if you’re concerned about putting chemicals in your body. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, choose clothing that has sun protection built in and stay in the shade as much as possible. It’s also smart to skip the sun during peak hours. No matter how you protect yourself, stay aware of your exposure and head indoors if your body’s had enough. Better to be safe than sorry.

~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!

Copyright 2020,