Sunscreen Active Ingredients – More Than Skin Deep?

Summer is upon us and it’s time to get out doors! But with increased time spent in thesun comes an increased risk of damage to your skin. In order to protect ourselves

against the harmful effects of sun light many of us reach for sunscreen as a first line of

defense, but are the ingredients in our favorite sunscreen safe?

According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of new cases of skin cancer has been steadily increasing each year since 1992. But have you ever looked closely at the ingredients in your favorite sunscreen? The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) recently published a cautionary report about how much and how long sunscreen active ingredients remain in the blood stream.



There are 16 active ingredients approved by the FDA for use in sunscreens, but only 2 have a rating of Generally Recognized As Safe and Effective (GRASE) by the FDA - titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.


A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that several of the active ingredients found in commercially available sunscreens – oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule – were present in the blood stream in higher levels than were previously thought to occur under typical application conditions. The JAMA report and other, similar research studies led to the creation of an FDA proposal that would change the way sunscreen active ingredients are regulated. Uncertainty over the safety of the 14 remaining active ingredients prompted the FDA to issue the following statement: “At this time, the FDA’s position is without further testing, the FDA does not know what levels of absorption are considered safe”.

Oxybenzone is one of the ingredients getting a lot of attention. While it is important to note that we don’t have a conclusive link between oxybenzone use in humans and serious health effects, oxybenzone is linked to allergic dermatitis in some users and studies in rodents have shown that there are possible hormone disruptions that can occur with high doses.

Oxybenzone has also been identified with adverse effects on the environment, prompting the state of Hawaii to ban Oxybenzone in sunscreens beginning in 2021 due to its negative effects on coral reefs. Given the mounting evidence against oxybenzone, you may want to consider limiting your exposure to oxybenzone and to choose a sunscreen with other active ingredients.

With so many sunscreen options available and few clear cut answers on whether common sunscreen ingredients contribute to adverse health effects, what can you do to both protect yourself from the sun and limit overexposure to potentially harmful ingredients in sunscreen? Proper protection can be achieved by taking a few simple steps:

  • Wear wide brim hats.

  • Wear sun protective clothing with a sun protection factor rating of SPF15 or higher.

  • Limit sun exposure during the peak UV levels that often occur from 10 am to 4 pm.

  • Seek shaded areas when possible.

  • Use sunscreens with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and without Oxybenzone.


So go enjoy time outdoors this summer, just remember to wear your sunscreen - but this time read the label and protect yourself on the inside as well as out.

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