Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
A ray of toxic sunlight is blocked by a squirt of toxic sunblock, but the conclusion is to still wear it

Sunscreen Ingredients, Are They Safe?

Is sunscreen safe? That’s a great question. A recent article on this site updated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for over the counter (OTC) sunscreens. I suggest that you review this well-crafted piece along with my additional thoughts here on this critically important subject. I have written many articles about sunscreen and like most things it is an ever-evolving subject that requires updates and further review.

What was safe is now…?

I grew up when it seemed like everyone smoked, there were no car seats for children, and were fewer safety regulations. Many practices that we considered “safe” are now deemed dangerous and even illegal. Much of these changes have come as a result of longitudinal scientific research studies that required time to accomplish. Society would have a problem. The business community (or other industries) would find a solution. The scientific/medical/governmental communities would research both the problem and the solution and make recommendations and changes, if deemed necessary.

Skin protection is the goal

This checks and balances system seems to be at work with regard to sunscreen. Let me first state that I recommend sunscreen. As a melanoma survivor, I wear it. But my question is whether or not the solution (some types of sunscreen) are worse than the problem (skin damage). It is important to ask this question to get to the heart of the matter. Safe, skin care is the goal.

Research

To this end, I did a little research of my own and landed on a Consumer Reports article about some of the chemicals commonly used in OTC sunscreen formulas. According to the piece, the American Academy of Dermatology has stated that sunscreen is safe, but that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has particular concerns about sunscreens containing oxybenzone. A new report states there may be risks to developing fetuses when pregnant women are exposed to oxybenzone” and that it’s best not to use sunscreens with this chemical on children. Confusing?

An explanation

According to Dr. Henry Lim, a dermatologist at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and immediate past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, much of the concern is related to the effects of chemical absorption into the skin when applying sunscreen year-round, on a daily basis. Are chemicals like oxybenzone safe in small amounts applied on occasion? Are they more dangerous in larger amounts when applied more often? This seems to be at the heart of debate.

Problems with oxybenzone?

As noted, the FDA is continuing to monitor the active ingredients in OTC sunscreens with particular interest in oxybenzone, which is in wide use because it effectively protects against UVA and UVB rays. In some studies, researchers found that the chemical absorbs into the skin more readily than was previously thought. Testing on animals have led to concerns that oxybenzone could “interfere with the normal function of a number or hormones, including estrogen.1

Birth Defects?

A recent paper published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology warns that pregnant women who all sunscreen with oxybenzone every day “might absorb enough of the chemical to increase the risk of a birth defect called Hirschsprug’s disease.1” The AAP also advises parents to avoid using sunscreens with this chemical as “studies in laboratory animals and other laboratory studies show that this chemical can mimic the actions of hormones that naturally occur in the human body. This is called endocrine disruption.1

Mineral-based sunscreens

According to the FDA, there is current evidence to conclude that mineral-based sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide do not warrant the same concerns as those containing oxybenzone because they are not readily absorbed and sit on top of the skin. Dr. Lim notes that these deflect the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them and are not as efficient filters as other chemical-based sunscreens.

Conclusion

In the end, Dr. Lim, the AAP, the AAD and even the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommend that women and children use sunscreen. Despite its concerns about oxybenzone, the AAP stresses that using some form of sunscreen is better than going completely unprotected. And that is where I land on this today. Use it.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. https://www.consumerreports.org/sunscreens/what-you-need-to-know-about-sunscreen-ingredients/

Comments

  • Ronni Gordon moderator
    4 weeks ago

    The question is, should we throw out all that old sunscreen?

  • Scott Matheny moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    I land on side of using sunscreen and monitoring the situation closely. With my melanoma history, my choice is to use the best sunscreen that I can while taking precautions based on the most current recommendations. (Scott, skincancer.net moderator)

  • wseverin
    4 weeks ago

    When I worked outside, (yes I was one of the idiots) I didn’t use screen or anything. I used to sit in the office and run the company. Then, I got sick of some of the things my framers and others did. Fired them all, and at about 38, I hired my own people and myself to build the house, ground up. Now I have this wonderful skin cancer called sebaceous carcinoma. I have now had 7 removals, 3 malignant. But, as the dermatologist said, we don’t know where it’s coming from. It could be anywhere. A friend of mine, (my drummer) went to his chiropractor because his knee hurt. That doctor didn’t work on him, but immediately sent him to an oncologist. Stage four lung cancer. Didn’t smoke or drink. 6 months later, well, nuff said. Mine said if they can’t find the source, I’m limited to 5-10 years on this Earth. Just found out yesterday that my prognosis wasn’t all that good.

  • Ronni Gordon moderator
    4 weeks ago

    So did they find the source? Whether or not they did, I hope you get another opinion, preferably at a cancer center where they have a lot of “tricks” up their sleeve such as trials and different protocols. You sure hear a lot of stories about people who are still here years after being told they only had a short time to live ! – Ronni, SkinCancer.net Team

  • Eileen.B moderator
    4 weeks ago

    No doubt hearing such a dire prognosis was jarring, @wseverin. It’s scary to hear your mortality quantified by a doctor, but I hope you remember nobody knows your expiration date. Nobody!

    We have an article about sebaceous carcinoma you might find interesting.

    I just read-up on the latest research on sebaceous carcinoma treatment, and in doing so I stumbled upon this case study. Of course it’s just one individual study, but it’s so full of hope! (Think his doctors gave him an expiration date?)

    I know having a rare cancer can feel pretty lonely, so never forget we’re here to support you. I hope you can do something fun and comforting this weekend? -Eileen, SkinCancer.net Team

    P.S. If you’re interested in learning about clinical trials, check out our clinical trial finder.

  • Poll