FDA Questions Safety of Sunscreen

New research from the US Food and Drug Administration indicates that people who regularly use sunscreen could be at a higher risk for absorbing active ingredients at a toxic level.  The study is a bit preliminary, so scientists are not entirely sure if these products pose any health risks, overall, as they recommend that people should still use sunscreen, as needed. 

More specifically, though, sunscreens of different degrees of formulation have been available for several decades, in the United States. However, while these products have definitely helped prevent sunburns and even skin cancer, in many cases, there has not been much research into subsequent effects these chemicals have on our bodies.  What little data we do have is more like circumstantial evidence that suggest, at least, some of the ingredients might have the potential disrupt hormonal balance and even raise the risk for non-skin cancers. Other studies may also suggest certain sunscreens might have a negative effect on the oceanic ecosystems.  

Now, it should be noted many chemicals found in sunscreens were already in broad use before the modern era that prioritized drug evaluation.  These ingredients were, effectively grandfathered into what is now known as the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe and Effect list (GRASE).  Of course, what we do believe about these ingredients came out animal exposure studies.  

But over the past few years, the FDA has changed its rules on sunscreen. And then just a few months ago, the FDA proposed a new rule that would essentially mandate new safety testing—on humans—for most of the active ingredients that are used in sunscreens. At present, only 2 out of 16 active ingredients that are currently marketed in sunscreens actually qualify as safe under the new GRASE ruling.  

These ingredients are the mineral components of sunscreen:  zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Four common sunscreen ingredients, however, belong to a dozen-strong list the FDA recently said need more investigation before they could be considered safe.  These four ingredients—avobenzone, ecamsule, octocrylene, and oxybenzone—remain in your body for at least 24 hours after use.

This is an important step to take, of course, as skin cancer is on the rise. As a matter of fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation assesses that more Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, every year, than all other types of cancer combined.  In addition, melanoma ranks as the 19thmost common cancer, globally, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.