A woman lathers sunscreen on her shoulder in front of a background of sunscreen squiggles. The sunscreen transforms her body into a pattern of bright rays.

Sunscreen in My Bloodstream

I used to love magic tricks whether it be pulling a rabbit out of a hat, or a quarter from behind an ear, or some person making a city disappear. One thing that always amazed me was how you could put a glob of lotion on your skin and it would magically disappear. One second it’s a half a cup of coconut-smelling yummy stuff and the next minute it was gone as if it never existed. Poof! Voila? Ok, where did it go? I understand that it was absorbed in the skin, but then where did it go? It had to go somewhere unless it was some sort of a trick.

Is sunscreen safe to use?

I am pretty sure that I thought my body absorbed it. I saw people applying all types of lotions, balms and other interesting concoctions growing up in California and I always wondered if that was really all that healthy. I mean I know people don’t want dry or cracked skin, but once again, where did it go, and was it harmful when it got there? I have had these same underlying thoughts about sunscreen. I know that it protects my outsides, but what does it do to my insides?

A recent study shows sunscreen is absorbed

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that some of the chemicals in sunscreen do indeed enter the bloodstream. The study discovered that the active ingredients in sunscreen (including oxybenzone and octocrylene) were systematically absorbed in 48 healthy patients over the course of the three-week study. According to the study, “sunscreen formulations were systemically absorbed and had plasma concentrations that surpassed the FDA threshold for potentially waiving some of the additional safety studies for sunscreens.” This means that the results of the study were significant enough to require further testing.1

Sunscreen not shown to be harmful

The study did not say that people should stop using sunscreen because there were no conclusions regarding any potential safety hazards of having these chemicals in these concentrations in the bloodstream. In other words, these chemicals have not been determined to be harmful as they travel inside our bodies. In fact, as expected, they are absorbed like any other lotion. According to Dr. Trevan Fischer, a surgical oncologist at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, the porous nature of skin is constantly allowing ingredients to “sink in”.2

Limitations of the study

There were limitations to the JAMA study. Research participants were not actually outdoors and not in the sun. They did not sweat or actively brush off the sunscreen. Additionally, they were given the recommended maximum amount of sunscreen.1 Previous research has shown that people do not use the recommended amount and do not reapply as sunscreen washes off or loses its effectiveness. In other words, the study’s results may not represent the actual consumer experience.

The wise choice

I think that the wisest course of action here is to wait and see as more studies are conducted. At this point, I have not seen a single recommendation to stop wearing sunscreen because of possible health problems it may cause inside our bodies. It’s evident that burning skin is harmful and any possible ill effects of using sunscreen have yet to be determined.

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