With Summer just around the corner, it is time to start applying sun screen on a daily basis. By now, we all know the benefits of making sunscreen a daily routine. But, there is some new information you should know when comparing different sunscreen products.
A new study was released this month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A), and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). In their report, researchers presented concerning findings when testing four commercially available sunscreens on the U.S. market, and found they might not be totally safe. The study found that our bodies could be absorbing more of the biologically active ingredients in sunscreen than previously thought. These chemicals can enter our blood, urine, and even breast milk, and there has been little research on the future consequences these substances can pose to our health with prolonged use.
Earlier this year, the F.D.A. released new guidelines for over-the-counter sunscreen manufacturers requiring any active ingredients that are absorbed into the bloodstream with concentrations higher than 0.5 ng/ml to undergo toxicology testing. These tests are supposed to look for risks of cancer, reproductive issues, and other hormonal mutations. According to the FDA study, out four of the active chemicals in sunscreen exceeded the levels needed for toxicology testing after only one day of use- some over four hundred times the amount!
When national studies are released on products you buy all the time, it’s normal for consumers to become concerned or get confused. Here is what Marylanders should know about the new study, and how it will affect the type of sunscreen products you purchase for your families this summer.
Sunscreen Absorption Study
Sunscreen has been around since the late 1920s, booming in popularity as skin cancer awareness has broadened. As more and more sunscreen products hit the market every year, a trend of using harmful chemicals and neglecting the responsibility of researching the safety of these products has somehow slipped through the cracks. According to an article by the F.D.A., past researchers have found little need to study the effects of sunscreen absorption. Since sunscreen is meant to sit on top of the skin as a barrier, the common belief was that the risk of high concentrations of sunscreen chemicals entering the bloodstream was minimal.
After releasing new guidelines for sunscreen toxicology testing this February, F.D.A. researchers performed a randomized clinical trial to find out how much of active ingredients in sunscreen are being absorbing during daily applications. Using 24 healthy volunteers, the team assigned each participant to use one sunscreen to apply four times a day, for four days. Two of the participants were given a spray sunscreen, one a cream and one a lotion that they were instructed to apply to over 75 percent of their skin on the four day schedule before blood samples were taken to test for four active ingredients commonly found in sunscreens and not extensively studied: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule.
The study concluded that all of the active ingredients were detected in blood concentrations exceeding the F.D.A.’s recommendation for toxicology testing. While the blood detection level for all the four chemicals averaged 4.0 ng/ml, Oxybenzone was found in concentrations as high as 209.6 ng/ml. These levels were higher with spray sunscreens vs. lotions.
Because there has been little testing on the long-term effects of these active ingredients, it’s unclear how much and what type of damage they could cause to consumers when used at these maximal suggested amounts. According to WebMD and Women’s Health, some of the possible concerns linked to these ingredients include:
- contact dermatitis
- dry skin
- inflammation of hair follicles
- skin irritations
- cell mutations
- hormonal disruptions
- allergic reactions
- altered endocrine system
- respiratory issues (spray sunscreens)
- reproductive issues
Oxybenzone is one of the ingredients health officials are worried about the most. According to the Environmental Working Group (E.W.G.), this substance is detected in nearly every American and could cause hormone disruption, altered birth weights, skin allergies, and even alter cells to cause tumors and skin cancer- precisely the condition sunscreen wearers are trying to prevent.
DO NOT STOP USING SUNSCREEN!
The health risks that may be associated with the active ingredients tested in the FDA study are good to know, but they are still uproven. However, there is no question that the chance of getting skin cancer or painful burns from exposure to the sun is higher without protection. Not all sunscreens are created alike, and plenty on the market have ingredients that are safer to use than others.
According to the E.W.G., here are the little known facts about sunscreen consumers should be aware of when picking out a sunscreen this season:
- Sunscreen alone is not enough: Sunscreen may provide some protection against the sun, but it alone cannot prevent skin cancer. Taking other protective measures such as shade, hats, glasses, and extra clothing can help reduce your risks.
- High SPF’s can fool you: If you are buying a product because it claims to have a high SPF, you might be buying the wrong sunscreen. Consumers who buy SPF’s greater than 50 may be misled that these products last longer and provide more protection when 11 percent of sunscreens do not meet up to their high SPF claim.
- Watch for too much vitamin A: Several sunscreen manufacturers add vitamin A to their beach and sport sunscreens, moisturizers, and lip products to combat skin aging. But studies are showing this ingredient could lead to tumors or lesions when used in unsafe amounts, in addition to damaging cells.
- More skin damage: Picking a sunscreen that has unbalanced UVA and UVB protection may not cause sunburn, but it won’t protect you from skin damage and the chance of skin cancer. Make sure your product is an approved broad-spectrum sunscreen.
- Know the serious effects: As we have discovered in the F.D.A. study, sunscreen ingredients absorb into our bloodstream more than we thought. Know the dangers of hormone disruptions, skin allergies, and other serious side effects before picking just any product from the shelf.
- Mineral is not better: Mineral sunscreens do not have the white appearance that other zinc oxide products do, but some of these products are also less effective in their protection and absorb quickly into the skin.
- Check your vitamin D levels: About 25 percent of American are low in vitamin D. You can’t rely on the sun alone for your daily dose, especially when you are wearing sunscreen. See your doctor for a supplement if you are concerned with your levels.
You don’t have to be afraid to go outside. Do your research. Educate yourself on the products you purchase to make sure you are using those that are best for your health and safety. And, for more information on sunscreen safety, check out E.W.G.’s sunscreen guide here.