Sunscreen has long been surrounded by controversy, but a recent study on its use is alerting a new kind of concern. The research, which was published early this May, suggests that common active ingredients in SPF can be absorbed into our bloodstream. In fact, they found more than the US FDA limit of absorption in the partcipants' blood samples.
Findings like this are definitely alarming, begging the question on the safety of using sunscreen. But is it reason enough to stop using it? Leaving the answer to the pros, we asked board-certified dermatologist Dr. Gaile Robredo-Vitas of BeautiqueMD all about what this new study could entail.
Is it dangerous for sunscreen ingredients to be absorbed into our bloodstream?
The sunscreen ingredients involved in the study are chemical filters. This includes avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule—all found as able to penetrate the skin and into our blood. Dr. Gaile says that since all four were able to surpass the US FDA's set absorption limit of 0.5 ng/mL, these need to be subjected for further testing to discover potential adverse effects.
"However, just because they are absorbed through the skin and into the body does not mean they are unsafe," the derm notes. "[The US FDA rule] merely states that further testing must be done to determine the safety of these ingredients for continuous or repeated use."
Should consumers be wary of sunscreen with these ingredients?
For regular healthy adults, the dermatologist says this is not yet a major concern. It could change if future studies find that these are indeed toxic, but that has yet to happen. "Everyone should continue to use sunscreen, with at least an SPF 30, on a regular basis because it has been proven to prevent skin cancer, sunburns, and photo-aging," she explains.
The doctor, however, suggests children under the age of six months to avoid contact with these ingredients, since their metabolic pathway and excretory system are still not mature enough to fight off potential harm. This also applies to pregnant women.
What ingredients we should look for in sunscreen that are considered safe?
Since the chemical filters above require further testing, the derm suggests opting for sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients. These are both "generally recognized as safe and effective" or GRASE by the US FDA.
Unlike avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule that are chemical filters, the two mentioned are both physical filters, which literally create a physical barrier on your skin that blocks UV rays. Plus, titanium oxide are considered reef safe, meaning it will not contribute to coral reef bleaching once it washes into the ocean. Here are a few physical sunblocks to try:
VMV Hypoallergenics Armada Face Cover 30, P1580, SM Makati
DRUNK ELEPHANT Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30, P2005, Sephora.ph
POND'S White Beauty Daily Whitening Sun Protect SPF50, P307, Watsons
Are there dangerous sunscreen ingredients that we should be avoiding?
Steering clear of chemical filters is purely your own choice; there are ingredients you should avoid since they are confirmed to be unsafe.
First is para-aminobenzoic acid or PABA. "It has a tendency to cause allergic reactions. It also stains clothing," Dr. Gaile explains. "More concerning, however, were a few studies that showed that PABA may cause DNA damage." Another is tolamine salicylate, which can pose safety and toxicity issues like salicylism or an excess intake of salicylates.