New FDA Study Finds Chemical Sunscreens Enter Bloodstream, But Don’t Panic

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“Put on sunscreen” is the beauty equivalent of “drink water”: advice you’ve heard so many times, it’s practically a cliché. But if you’ve heard the scary-sounding headlines about a recent US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sunscreen study — which found that some ingredients can enter the bloodstream after just a single application — you might be wondering if you should Throw out your bottle of SPF. (Spoilers: no.) Here’s what you need to know about the latest research.

What does that mean new FDA study on the intake of sunscreen actually say?

Before we get into that, let’s go back a little. The latest FDA study, published in January 2020, is a follow-up study to a May 2019 pilot study; both were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This previous study was an “exploratory maximum utilization trial” (MUsT), which is a standard way of finding out how drugs are absorbed into the body.

Basically, the scientists wanted to know what would happen if sunscreen was applied liberally and frequently (i.e. under “maximum use conditions”): how much would be absorbed into the system? So the participants docked a lot – 2 mg sunscreen per square centimeter covering 75 percent of the body surface, four times a day for four days.

In the May study, four different products with four chemical sunscreen filters (Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, Ecamsule) were tested. All of these drugs entered the bloodstream at levels greater than 0.5 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter). So what’s the big deal on this cusp? At this level, the FDA decides that more safety testing is needed. what it not mean: that these ingredients have been shown to be unsafe.

The latest, hot off the press FDA study analyzed four products containing six chemical sunscreen filters (Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, Homosalate, Octisalat, Octinoxate) and examined what would happen not only under conditions of maximum use (as in the first trial), but also after a single whole-body dose. The result: All six active ingredients were absorbed into the bloodstream and all exceeded the threshold of 0.5 ng/mL after just one application.

That sounds alarming. Isn’t it dangerous for sunscreen ingredients to get into my bloodstream?

Don’t jump to conclusions—the FDA didn’t do that. As the agency puts it, “The results of these studies do not mean that the FDA has concluded that any of the tested ingredients are unsafe for use in sunscreen.” And the fact that more testing should be done means, too not that the ingredients are unsafe; This is the normal process to rigorously evaluate drugs and fill in data gaps.

“The research results do not worry me for several reasons,” says Dr. Monica Li, MD, a Vancouver-based medical and cosmetic dermatologist and clinical instructor in the Department of Dermatology and Sciences at the University of British Columbia, who was not involved with the FDA’s studies. “First, the findings simply require more research to better understand a universally important skin health product known for its public health benefits, such as: B. reducing the risk of skin cancer and premature aging,” she explains.

Second, as both the FDA and Dr. Li emphasize, absorption is not synonymous with risk. More research is needed to find out whether sunscreen ingredients that enter the body actually have an effect. But based on what we know, the FDA says there’s no reason to stop using sunscreen.

What does Health Canada say?

Health Canada regularly reviews information from FDA-led research and other sources and has not changed its position on sunscreen safety after reviewing the new studies. Additionally, “Health Canada currently has no plans to request additional safety data from sunscreen manufacturers,” says agency spokeswoman Marie-Pier Burelle. “Health Canada continues to recommend the use of sunscreen in conjunction with other sun protection measures, such as sunscreen. E.g. protective clothing.”

Are there ingredients in sunscreen that are not absorbed into the bloodstream?

The FDA studies only looked at chemical ingredients in sunscreen. But there are mineral ingredients in sunscreen — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — that you can use instead if you’re concerned about absorption. “Scientific evidence has so far shown no penetration of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particles in mineral sunscreens through the skin’s surface,” says Dr. Li. “That’s why they are considered physical blockers by sitting on the skin’s surface after application and acting as a physical barrier by reflecting UV light.”

How about nano-mineral sunscreens? Are they absorbed into the bloodstream?

To avoid the chalky sheen of sticky mineral sunscreens of the past, some modern formulas are made with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles (smaller than 100 nanometers). “They’re very effective at blocking UV rays, but they don’t appear ‘white’ when applied to the skin,” says Dr. Li and notes that according to current knowledge, these tiny nanoparticles still remain on the surface of intact skin.

What if I just don’t want to wear sunscreen?

The serious damage that free sun exposure does to the skin is the only area that is affected not need no further research: it’s a fact. If you’re shirking SPF, remember that sun protection also involves other measures—like wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and avoiding direct sunlight during the midday hours, when the UV index is highest.

just give me the tl;dr.

There is no need to panic. Use sunscreen.

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