Is sunscreen safe? Dozens of news reports posed this question when a JAMA study was released last month. Prompted by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) questions, the study found that with continuing use, the active ingredients (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule) of four commercially available sunscreens were absorbed into the bloodstream and met or exceeded estimated toxic levels. The FDA was concerned that accumulation of these chemicals could exceed its guidance that any active ingredient whose concentration exceeds 0.5 nanograms (that’s only one-billionth of a gram) per liter of blood should undergo toxicology assessment to see if it is causally associated with “cancer, birth defects or other adverse effects.”
While media reporting may have caused some to pause before applying sunscreen, the authors themselves urge that their findings shouldn’t prevent us from using it. These levels of absorption are extraordinarily low and may be completely harmless and the paper concludes that further study is warranted.
Sunscreen’s effectiveness against skin cancer — the most common form of cancer in the U.S. — is not in dispute, and the risk of not using it is great. More Americans are diagnosed with skin cancers, more than three million each year, than all other cancers combined, and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.