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Until recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed sunscreen makers to sell their products under the assumption that the active ingredients they use are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE).
However, new FDA tests have reportedly found that six common active ingredients used in sunscreens are absorbed into the body and that these chemicals can remain in the body for “extended periods of time.” The study evaluated absorption of the active ingredients avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate.
These findings have sparked questions on whether sunscreen applications are still safe for use.
What the findings reveal
“We tested absorption of active ingredients contained in four commercially available sunscreen products (lotion, aerosol, nonaerosol and pump spray),” says the managing director of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products (DNDP), Theresa M. Michele.
The study also found that just a single application of sunscreen from either lotion or spray can increase blood levels of these active ingredients higher than the FDA’s safety threshold. “While additional data are needed, the results showed that all six active ingredients were absorbed into the body’s bloodstream – even after a single use. An additional finding from this new study is that once absorbed, these active ingredients can remain in the body for extended periods of time, “ Michele added.
Previous studies done by the FDA research division had found that ingredients used in sunscreen can disrupt hormones which can lead to fertility problems, poor birth outcomes and increased likelihood of cancer.
The researchers have found systemic concentrations of more than 0.5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of all four active ingredients in the blood of the volunteers who participated in the study. Below this level, there is thought to be minimal risk that an ingredient or drug could cause harm.
Don’t abandon sun protection altogether
The FDA has also, however, said that the public should not stop using sunscreens that contain avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene or ecamsule just yet. While the health effects of these four chemicals are not confirmed, experts and the FDA stress the sun’s link to cancer and aging.
If chemicals in sunscreen are a concern to the user, mineral-based sunscreens are generally considered safe and effective, according to the FDA. People can also choose to wear long-sleeved clothing, hats, sunglasses and stay in the shade.