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Is Sunscreen Safe?

The short answer is no, sunscreen is not completely safe. Ask any dermatologist and they will tell you to wear sunscreen every day. The question rarely asked is if sunscreen is safe? According to the American Academy of dermatology (AAD); everyone should wear sunscreen everyday if they are going to leave the house.  The sunscreen application guidelines advised by the AAD are as follows:

How much sunscreen should I use, and how often should I apply it?

  • Most people only apply 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen.8
  • Apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin that clothing will not cover. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body. 
  • Don't forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head.
  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors. 
  • Skin cancer also can form on the lips. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • When outdoors, reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle.

Evidence Suggesting Sunscreen is Not Safe:

However, according to a recent clinical trial, six active ingredients commonly found in sunscreens were evaluated for their absorption into the bloodstream of 48 healthy volunteers. The ingredients tested were avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, octinoxate. These ingredients were determined to be absorbed into the bloodstream at concentrations that exceed 0.5 ng/mL after only one application. This is the safety threshold not to be exceeded as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration.

Active Ingredients in Sunscreen:

 The study incudes 48 healthy volunteers with no skin issues and included different application forms of sunscreen including lotion, aerosol spray, non-aerosol spray, and pump spray. Volunteers were to apply sunscreen for 4 days and had a total of 34 blood samples taken over the course of 21 days. Safety threshold for all 6 of the sunscreen ingredients were exceeded. The concentrations remained above the safety recommendation for 23 hours after one application. Even more concerning is concentrations of the ingredients remained in 50% of the volunteers for over 7 days and up to 21 days for two of the six ingredients.

Are there any safe alternatives to sunscreen?

These studies call into question the safety of sunscreens and alternatives for effective photoprotection. Antioxidants applied topically such as vitamin C and vitamin E have been shown to work at the skin's surface but also inside skin. Following topical application, once the skin is saturated with L-ascorbic acid after 3 days of application, it remains in the skin for up to 4 days. Direct topical application of antioxidants could be a good alternative to sunscreens fir photoprotection and antioxidant benefits. However, it is important to use a clinically tested formulation of vitamin C and vitamin E such as Phyto-C’s E in C Serum. It is important to note that topical cosmeceuticals are not a replacement to sunscreen, but may be effective as a photoprotective antioxidant to correct the visible signs of aging.

What’s the Verdict?

The FDA does not recommend to avoid using sunscreens, however, more research is needed before any further decisions can be made regarding the safety of sunscreens containing avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, octinoxate.