Is Sunscreen Safe if it Absorbs Into the Bloodstream?

It’s that time of the year again — swimming, sun(screen) and surf.  

Some common ingredients in sunscreen seep into the bloodstream after one day of use, an FDA study says, and just in time for summer.

So should you opt out of sunscreen? The short answer: absolutely not.

While this news sounds alarming, experts are warning people not to stop using sunscreen.

“We know that the sun is a known carcinogen and skin cancer is the most common cancer in human beings,” said Dr. Vlad Ratushny, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Massachusetts Dermatology Associates and MassDerm Hair Transplant Institute  in Beverly, Massachusetts.

The study released earlier this month found that several active ingredients in sunscreen absorb into the bloodstream, even after one day of use.

It’s important to note, that study’s authors did not establish if this finding was problematic, in and of itself.

According to Dr. Ratushny, this was a very small pilot study to determine whether certain sunscreen ingredients need to undergo any further testing but did not state these ingredients were unsafe to use.

The goal of this study was to determine whether the active ingredients (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule) of four commercially available sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream.

The FDA uses a threshold of “toxicological concern,” called TCC, in absorption to evaluate if a compound needs further study. If the systemic absorption of a substance in question is below this threshold, the FDA waives the need for further testing since the chance for harm is so low.

“This study showed these ingredients in sunscreen do absorb systemically at a higher rate than the TTC,” Dr. Ratushny said. “This means the FDA recommends further non-clinical toxicology testing to evaluate their safety.”

Still, these sunscreens have been around for decades without any reported side effects in humans.

“It’s very likely that the hundreds of different ingredients that the public uses in their over-the-counter cosmetic and skin care products may absorb into the systemic circulation at a higher rate than the TTC,” he said.

If you’d prefer to avoid sunscreens with these ingredients, known as chemical blockers, there are different kinds of sun protection you can use.

There are numerous physical blocker sunscreens, such as sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  There is also UV protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and, most simply, sitting in a shaded area.

For more information on sunscreens and sun protection, speak with your health care provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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