Dermatologists recommend you wear sunscreen every day, not just when you’re at the beach or the pool.
But a study by the Food and Drug Administration has some people worried. In the study, published May 6 in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), the FDA found some chemicals in sunscreens don’t just sit on the skin — they are absorbed into the skin.
In some cases, the researchers said, the amount of active ingredients found in the study participants’ systems was 40 times higher than the 0.5 ng/mL threshold.
When ingredients are found in amounts higher than that threshold, the FDA recommends additional studies to determine carcinogenicity, and if the amounts affect development or reproduction.
“Just because they are absorbed doesn’t mean they are unsafe,” said study co-author Theresa Michele, director of the division of nonprescription drug products at the FDA. “That’s why we are asking for additional data.”
For this study, 24 healthy volunteers were asked to apply one of four sunscreens to 75% of their bodies four times a day for four days. Six participants were given a spray, six were given a different spray, six were given a lotion, and six were given a cream.
Thirty blood samples were collected from each participant over seven days.
“Systemic concentrations greater than 0.5 ng/mL were reached for all 4 products after 4 applications on day 1,” the researchers wrote.
In February, the FDA proposed regulation changes for sunscreens. In addition to SPF guidance, the FDA determined two active ingredients — PABA and trolamine salicylate — are not GRASE, generally recognized as safe and effective, for use in sunscreens due to safety issues.
Does this mean you should stop using sunscreen? No.
“It is important that, as this rulemaking effort moves forward and the FDA gathers additional scientific information, given the recognized public health benefits of sunscreen use, consumers continue to use sunscreen in conjunction with other sun-protection measures,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “To help make sure this effort is successful, the FDA is looking to industry to gather the data needed to help ensure that products marketed to offer protection from the sun’s effects are safe and deliver on these promises.”
The FDA suggests incorporating other sun protective behaviors. In addition to sunscreen, the agency suggests wearing protective clothing that adequately covers the arms, torso and legs; wearing sunglasses and a hat that provides adequate shade to the whole head; and seeking shade whenever possible during periods of peak sunlight.