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Yes, Sunscreen Can Enter Your Body, FDA Study Finds

A second study now adds urgency to calls for testing their safety, especially in kids

Continue to use sunscreen while testing continues, the FDA says.

Updated: Jan. 22, 2020

Ingredients in sunscreen can be absorbed into the body, prompting the FDA to ask sunscreen makers to test them for safety.

The FDA stressed that you and your family should still apply sunscreen to protect against skin cancer. 

The FDA asked 24 adults to apply one of four sunscreens — two sprays, a lotion and a cream — four times a day all over their bodies for four days as recommended on the label. Blood tests found four ingredients — avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule — seeped into the bloodstream in amounts that trigger FDA requirements for safety testing. In fact, the amount detected exceeded that level after the first day.

A second study published Tuesday added urgency to calls for testing the safety of these chemicals, particulary in children. 

"The exclusion of the pediatric population from these clinical studies leaves an important gap in the current understanding of the systemic absorption of sunscreen," the Journal of the American Medical Association said in an editorial accompanying the most recent study.

What's a parent to do?

The push in recent years has been to apply sunblock all year, sunny day or not. So what's a cautious parent to do.

First, whatever you, don't stop protecting your kids from the sun and, potentially, melanoma years later. Clothing and shade are natural ways to shield the sun's rays, but not an answer for hot, active kids, especially around pools and beaches.

Second, understand that just because sunscreen chemicals were detected in blood doesn't mean they present a danger.

The Journal of the American Medical Association, in an editorial published along with the earlier study, said the use of sunscreens is still important while additional testing takes place, particularly as it applies to children. Following the study released in January 2020, JAMA says that use of chemical sunscreeens remains "appropriate" until there is "clear data demonstrating harm." 

Many pediatricians and dermatologists recommend mineral or "physical" sunscreens for young children. They are made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which have already been determined to be safe.

Whlle a safe alternative to chemical sunscreens, JAMA notes that to be effective, you have to use so much of them that they leave a white film all over your skin. Maybe young kids will let that slide, but try getting a teenager to hang out on the beach looking like a ghost. 

While further testing may show that some or all of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens are safe, that might not clear the way for kids to use them.

"An urgent question involves absorption in infants and children, who have different ratios of body surface area to overall size and whose skin may absorb substances at differential rates," JAMA notes.

In the meanwhile, some experts suggest using a combination of chemical and physical sunscreens, along with clothing and sunglasses, and avoiding direct sunlight between 10am and 2pm. 


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