High levels of sunscreen ingredients end up in bloodstream, FDA researchers say

Modesto Morganelli
Mag 9, 2019

A new study conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration found several common sunscreen ingredients can enter the bloodstream at unsafe levels after just one day of use. "It's important for consumers to know that for the goal of this study, sunscreens were applied to 75% of the body, four times per day for four days - which is twice the amount that would be applied in what the scientific community considers real-world conditions".

Previous research has suggested that sunscreen ingredients can enter the bloodstream, and have even been detected in breast milk. "At a minimum, physicians should recommend use of sunscreen formulations containing GRASE ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as part of a larger program of photoprotection that includes seeking shade, and wearing protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses, until meaningful answers to these questions are available", Robert Califf, former chariman of the FDA and current editor in chief of JAMA Dermatology, said in an editorial piece in JAMA. The study results were published yesterday (6th of May 2019) in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sunscreens in the study were used at "twice the amount that would be applied in what the scientific community considers real-world conditions", council head scientist Alexandra Kowcz said. This pilot study was conducted by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, an arm of the US Food and Drug Administration.

These ingredients are most commonly found in chemically based sunscreen.

Earlier this year, the FDA proposed a new rule for over-the-counter sunscreen products that would stipulate that any active ingredient absorbed into the blood with concentrations greater than 0.5 ng/mL undergo toxicology testing.

The study found maximum plasma levels of the chemicals it tested for - avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and, in one sunscreen, ecamsule - to be well above the level of 0.5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) at which FDA guidelines call for further safety testing. The four ingredients they studied included avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule. "These results do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen", the study said.

For oxybenzone, maximum plasma concentrations were 169.3 ng/mL for lotion, 209.6 ng/mL for spray 1, and 194.9 ng/mL for spray 2. The team collected 30 blood samples over 7 days from each of the participants.

David Andrews, a senior scientist at the nonprofit health and environmental advocacy group Environmental Working Group, called for thorough testing of sunscreen ingredients. Faber, who was not involved in the work, adds that "this study is the FDA's [Food and Drug Administration's] way of showing sunscreen manufacturers they need to do the studies to see if chemical absorption poses health risks".

In addition, the state of Hawaii and Key West, Florida have passed bills banning the chemical ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, which contribute to the bleaching and death of coral reefs.

However, the Personal Care Products Council trade association pointed out limitations of the study and expressed concern that it may confuse consumers.

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