Are Sunscreens Safe?

  • January 22, 2020

Sunscreens are an important part of any skincare regimen. They prevent UV radiation from penetrating the skin into the DNA of the skin cells. This benefits the skin in two key ways: prevention of aging and prevention of skin cancer. I have been asked by many patients about the safety of sunscreens. As I have said for years, there are certain products that I prefer for UV protection, namely those that contain physical UV blockers such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Recently, scientists at the FDA found “that active chemicals in sunscreens can readily soak into the bloodstream, confirming the need for more testing on whether these products are safe.” The findings1 were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association replicating the “findings of a pilot study by FDA scientists in May 2019.”

In the article, the researchers at the FDA tested six active ingredients and found that all of them were absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. The six ingredients tested in the study were: avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. Note that these are all chemical-type UV blockers, not the physical UV blockers which I mentioned previously. The researchers tested various application types including aerosol sprays, nonaerosol sprays, pumps, and lotions. They determined that the blood “plasma concentrations surpassed the FDA threshold for potentially waiving some of the additional safety studies for sunscreens.”

The FDA is quick to point out that individuals should not refrain from using sunscreen based on the results of this study. Instead, the FDA is calling on manufacturers to present more research. I suspect that these findings will likely lead to more studies and may even change the way that sunscreens are labeled in the future.

In my experience, I have found that the physical UV blockers (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) are often found in sunscreens, but the less expensive ones typically are thicker in their application. I recommend and prefer to use the professional-grade sunscreens like those we sell in our office. The reason why I prefer these is that they typically go on smoother and look less bulky or “cakey”. This is because these professional-grade sunscreens use a different processing technique (e.g., micronization) that produces a less volumous but equally effective size of the molecule. This processing makes the sunscreen feel less bulky as it is applied.

To recap, you should continue to use sunscreens and the most highly recommended sunscreens are the professional-grade ones that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 970-759-5990.

1Matta, MK, et al. JAMA. 5050;323(3):256-267.