Chemicals in commonly used sunscreens can be absorbed into the bloodstream at concentrations that may be dangerous to humans, a new study has found. It is the second study to discover the issue in less than a year.
Anytime an active ingredient is found in the blood at a level of 0.5 nanograms per milliliter or higher, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that the chemical be analyzed to determine if it poses health risks, such as an increased risk of cancer or birth defects. Six chemicals in sunscreen lotions and sprays recently tested by the FDA were found at levels ranging from 3.3 nanograms per milliliter to 258.1 per milliliter.
Those six chemicals are the most common active ingredients in sunscreens and include oxybenzone, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone. In February 2019, the FDA proposed a rule that was to have been finalized last November. It would have required the industry to complete additional testing of several chemicals used in sunscreens to determine if they pose risks. But the proposal was stopped in its tracks when the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law. That law essentially scrapped those efforts by reverting back to the 1999 sunscreen rule, which says active sunscreen ingredients currently on the market are safe.
Instead, the CARES Act requires the FDA to propose a revised sunscreen order by Sept. 27, 2021. But that rule wouldn’t go into effect until the FDA issues a final order on the rule. If or when that is issued, it may not take effect for another year after that.
In the interim, the FDA isn’t recommending people avoid sunscreens because they protect consumers against sun damage and cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation from the sun. But, not all sunscreens contain harmful ingredients.
There are essentially two types of sunscreens on the market — those made with minerals and those with chemicals. The FDA’s proposed rule had already listed sunscreens made with the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as both safe and effective. Consumers who want to know which sunscreens are considered safe can check out the list of 700 currently available sunscreens complied by the nonprofit research organization Environmental Working Group (EWG).