For the second time this year, researchers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have released a study showing that many popular sunscreen products release chemicals into the body through the skin at levels beyond what the agency considers healthy.
The FDA gets concerned if ingredients are found in the bloodstream at a level of 0.5 nanograms per milliliter or higher. At that level, the FDA says chemicals need to undergo a rigorous analysis to make sure they don’t have harmful health risks.
In its most recent study released this week, the FDA said six chemicals found in sunscreen products were found at levels ranging from 3.3 to 258.1 per milliliter, depending on the product and how it was applied.
Earlier this year the FDA released a study, that found sunscreen chemicals could enter the body after just one day’s use and were at much higher levels than recommended.
The agency analyzed four off-the-shelf sunscreen products and found that they “resulted in plasma concentrations that exceeded the threshold established by the FDA for potentially waiving some nonclinical toxicology studies for sunscreens.”
Both FDA studies focused on six chemicals commonly found in over-the-counter sunscreen products — avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate. The agency said previous research has identified those chemicals as having potential health risks, but it concedes that the findings were not conclusive
A proposed FDA rule was supposed to be finalized last November that would require sunscreen manufacturers to conduct additional testing on all the chemicals used in their products to ensure their safety.
But the rule reportedly got sidetracked when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck. Oddly, the CARES Act, which dealt primarily with an economic response to the pandemic, made changes to how over-the-counter products like sunscreen are regulated. For now, at least, the status quo prevails.
Don’t stop using sunscreen
The FDA says it is not recommending that consumers spending time in the sun avoid using sunscreen. After all, these products shield the skin from the sun’s harmful rays that can cause skin cancer.
Using a mineral-based sunscreen instead of a chemical-based product may be safer, the agency says. Its now-abandoned sunscreen rule recognized the minerals zinc oxide and titanium oxide as safe and effective.
Using sunscreen products in moderation could be another option. Clothing manufacturers have recently begun to make lightweight long sleeve shirts that are breathable but have been shown to be effective at reflecting the sun’s harmful rays and exposing less of the body to direct sunlight, reducing the need for a sunscreen product.