Updated: Jul 1
The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for sunscreen safety and in 2019 they proposed significant changes due to the fact they only found two ingredients proven to be safe and effective. When applied daily for years the cumulative effect of these toxic ingredients can have extremely negative effects on our health. Many other conventional ingredients in sunscreens have been linked to hormone disruption, skin allergies, increased cancer, low testosterone levels, increased risk of endometriosis, and problems associated with reproduction and development. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group has made Sunscreen Safety very easy! Check out their website for full sunscreen reports. For now, I will summarize some of their findings:
The FDA suggested some improvement to the SPF industry in 2007 such as higher UVA protection and stricter guidelines, but when sunscreen manufacturers fought this change the agency relented, enabling toxic and potentially harmful products to remain on the market for a decade more! Every SPF on the market provides more protection in UVB than UVA rays which helps avoid sunburn but doesn't protect from long term skin damage and cancer. In 2019 the FDA finally updated their regulations for sunscreen safety and found that the only two ingredients shown to be safe and effective are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Oxybenzone and Homosalate were two very problematic ingredients that the FDA has now proposed a concentration limit of 1.2% and 1.4% respectively. U.S. sunscreen manufactures are legally allowed to use these two chemicals at concentrations more than 5 times those limits. Oxybenzone is estimated to be found in 40% of sunscreens on the market today while some studies have shown various toxic effects like increased risk of endometriosis, allergic skin reactions, and is potentially of greater harm to children.
A handful of toxic SPF ingredients (oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate) are all systemically absorbed into the skin after just one use and could be detected in the blood weeks after no longer being used. Studies also show these ingredients in breast milk and urine samples.
Higher SPF values have NOT been shown to provide additional clinical benefit and may cause more harm then good. The FDA proposal highlighted concerns that claims of excessively high SPF values give users a false sense of protection, leading to overexposure to UVA rays that increase the risk of long-term skin damage and cancer. The FDA emphasized the need to provide more UVA protection.
Sunscreens made with mineral active ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, generally score well in EWG’s ratings because they provide good sun protection with little health concerns and very little traces are found in the bloodstream.
Check out the Environmental Working Group for its many high quality resources about sunscreen safety, sunscreen recommendations, how to read a sunscreen label, and a yearly sunscreen safety report. https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/