It’s summer time and sunscreen season! Outdoor activities, from hikes to beach days to sports, require us to be in the sun. And no one wants a sunburn or sun-damage–or, worse, skin cancer. With many conflicting opinions, from dermatologists to organic product advocates, sunscreen use seems a little confusing. UNTIL NOW.
Let me preface this conversation by saying I do not sell any sunscreen products. Allen Acupuncture is all about wellness and helping people get or stay healthy.
Sunscreen chemical study
I read a disturbing article in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) from May 2019. This study reports the levels of sunscreen chemicals found in people’s blood plasma.
It has long been known that the skin absorbs what we put on it. This is the theory behind essential oils as well as medications that are delivered by patches (everything from nicotine patches to birth control). But for some reason, there has been some debate as to whether the skin absorbs sunscreen chemicals.
Now, we have a definite answer. YES, the body absorbs these sunscreen chemicals. Not only that, but the body doesn’t get rid of them well, and they accumulate in the blood (and therefore the body).
Let’s break down the study.
First, it was a small study involving 24 healthy people. Second, the people had to put on sunscreens over 75% of their body (like when wearing a bathing suit) every 6 hours. They did this for four days, and measured the results with bloodwork after a few hours, during the four days, and even up to seven days after the sunscreen applications. The POINT is that this mimics what a person would do if they were on vacation or in the sun a lot–or even more scary, if a person has sunscreen in their make-up, their lotion, and then applied it a couple of times during the day.
The FDA hasn’t really studied the dangers of the sunscreen chemicals. First, we have to prove that these chemicals are found in the blood above 0.5ng/mL (that’s nanograms per milliliter). This is what the study was trying to do.
Four chemicals were tested: Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, and Ecamsule. Oxybenzone is in 95% of commercial suncreens. The BENZONES have been shown to be hormone disruptors that mimic estrogens in the body. They are closely tied to endometriosis. They are worse than BPA (which most of us know to avoid in plastics now) as hormone and immune system disruptors. There are actually 12 sunscreen chemicals that have NOT BEEN PROVEN SAFE. But the FDA needs to study them more with clinical trials to prove their toxicity.
FINDINGS–this is CRAZY!
DAY 1: The study showed that with just ONE application in ALL PARTICIPANTS, Avobenzone levels were higher than the allowed 0.5ng/mL within 6 hours of application. Oxybenzone levels crossed the threshold in 2 hours, and Octocrylene levels were elevated within 6 hours. Ecamsule levels on day 1 passed the maximum in 5 of 6 participants.
DAY 4: By the fourth day, the participants reached the maximum blood levels. If the recommended maximum is 0.5ng/mL, here’s the average levels on Day 4:
- Avobenzone: 3.4ng/mL–680% more than FDA max
- Oxybenzone: 191.3ng/mL–38,260% more than FDA max
- Octocrylene: 5.5ng/mL–1100% more than FDA max
- Ecamsule: 1.5ng/mL–300% more than FDA max
DAY 7: Blood levels were still elevated over the 0.5ng/mL levels, even though participants stopped putting on sunscreen on DAY 4. After application, some of the chemicals took over 84 hours to break down only HALF of them.
Why is this important?
If the FDA hasn’t studied the long-term or cumulative effects of these chemicals, and other studies have shown them to be hormone disruptors, commercial sunscreen brands can be MORE HARMFUL THAN HELPFUL. We just don’t know the effect of chemical levels that are 38,260% ABOVE the recommended FDA levels. We cannot assume that these chemicals are NOT the cause of cancers in the body. Many cancers are triggered by estrogens–and these mimic estrogens. This is SERIOUS stuff!
What IS safe?
First of all, the SUN provides our skin with the essentials for producing VITAMIN D. This is an essential nutrient associated with a strong immune system, healthy bones, and improved absorption of other minerals, to say the least. Supplements of Vitamin D are helpful, but can’t replace our own bodies’ Vitamin D production. We NEED about 15 minutes or more of sun exposure every day to make Vitamin D.
On the other hand, the SUN exposes us to harmful Ultraviolet rays (both UVA & UVB) that damage the skin. This is RADIATION. Side effects of UV rays are sunburn, sun poisoning, and skin damage–and ultimately, may cause skin cancers.
Here are the HEALTHY, SAFE OPTIONS:
- Choose sunscreens with Zinc Oxide or Titanium Oxide. These chemicals have been proven SAFE for the body.
- Cover up. Wear a “swim shirt” or cover up that blocks out UV rays. These shirts can get wet and then dry quickly. They also “breathe” so you don’t get overheated.
- Wear a hat. A BIG hat. A baseball cap may shade the forehead and nose a bit, but the ears, cheeks, chin and neck are still vulnerable. A wide-brimmed hat with good ventilation is the best choice. One that can get wet and then dry quickly is a bonus.
- Use an umbrella/parasol. They are not just to avoid getting wet. Many umbrellas provide great SPF protection from the sun and cooling shade, too.
- Wear Sunglasses. The eyes can be severely damaged by UV rays, both in the short- and long-term. Cataracts, retina damage, and overgrowth of the whites of the eyes can be caused by UV radiation.
- Limit Sun Exposure. The most damaging UV rays are between 10am and 4pm. Plan your days to be outside more in the mornings or late afternoons when the sun isn’t as strong.
Remember that there is BIG money behind the commercial sunscreens. Big money means lobbyists advocating for sunscreen companies–to doctors, lawmakers, and the FDA. Just like many medications are being proven toxic and dangerous to the body LONG AFTER they have been used (Prilosec, Advil, etc…), we will eventually know for sure what is obvious right now: commercial sunscreen chemicals are absorbed through the skin and dangerous to the human body.