Are sunscreen chemicals safe for the body to absorb?

FDA sunscreen study

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - If you’re planning to spend any time in the sun this summer, you might want to pay more attention to a popular summer item on the shelf: sunscreen.

But could something that so many of us wear on a daily basis do more harm than good? A recent study by the Food and Drug Administration is taking a closer look at the effects the chemical ingredients have on our body.

In the study, researchers gave 24 participants either a sunscreen lotion, spray or cream, and found traces of four of the chemicals in user’s blood less than 24 hours after application. The four active ingredients in question are avobenzone, octocrylene, ecamsule, and oxybenzone. The blood levels were high enough to trigger a safety investigation.

This might sound alarming, but here’s the most important thing doctors say you should take from this study: these results do not mean people should avoid using sunscreen. There's no evidence the ingredients measured in the study can do anything harmful to the body once seeped into the skin.

Dr. William Epperson, family medicine and skin cancer specialist with Tidelands Health, says these compounds in sunscreen were approved for use decades ago, therefore there’s not a lot of research about the potential health risks until now.

“Different chemicals have different properties of going through your skin and entering into your bloodstream. They have no clue what’s going on with the sunscreen chemicals that are used. These are large molecules that block the sun from the UV light from entering the skin. But some of that chemical may be entering into the skin, into the bloodstream," said Epperson.

Epperson says just because the ingredients are absorbed through the skin and into the body, it does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe. However, it does mean more health effects need to be studied.

The use of sunscreen is something new in the public, so they want to make sure that this is going to be safe to use, and it’s just not come up before now," said Epperson.

If you’re looking for an alternative to chemical sunscreen this summer, experts recommend mineral or physical sunscreens. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports over 5 million cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year, making it the most common cancer in the country.

Epperson says he’s seen an increase in patients with skin cancer, especially here in Myrtle Beach. He noted most cases are adults who didn’t practice safe sun when outdoors. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

Doctors recommend continuing to use sunscreen to protect yourself from skin cancer and taking advantage of clothing, like light long sleeve shirts, wide brimmed hats and UV protective sunglasses.

The FDA says more research is needed to figure out if these chemicals can be considered safe.

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