As you know, I’m a fierce advocate for healthy home and personal care products.
And the good news here is that there are new and improved versions of previously toxic products coming to market every day.
But, sadly, these are the exception, not the rule. And most of what’s out there is still hazardous… despite being in just about every home in America.
One toxic product that I’ve warned about for decades—and that some people even continue to use daily—is sunscreen. And knowing how this month is a big one for summer vacations, there’s no better time to sound the alarm and issue that warning once again.
A toxic threat within hours
Results from a small clinical trial to test over-the-counter sunscreens showed that people who used them wound up with systemic concentrations of the products’ active ingredient that well exceeded safety thresholds outlined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This discovery should trigger widespread industry safety testing. But I won’t be holding my breath…
The study tested four commercial sunscreens—two sprays, one lotion, and one cream. The goal was to assess concentrations of a chemical ingredient called avobenzone. But researchers also measured for three additional active ingredients: Oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule.
Subjects applied sunscreens according to directions stated on the label. And since the goal wasn’t to assess performance, the experiment took place indoors—away from heat, sunlight, and humidity.
On the first day, after four applications, all but one of the subjects had systemic concentrations of the active ingredients that surpassed 0.5 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL). This is what the FDA calls the “Threshold of Toxicological Concern”—that is, the level over which no chemical can be presumed safe.
Any level under 0.5 ng/mL would only carry a carcinogenic risk of one in 100,000 after a single dose. (Which is still one too high, if you ask me. But let’s remember who we’re dealing with here.)
To make matters worse, subjects reached this threshold quickly—within two to six hours of applying sunscreens containing avobenzone, oxybenzone, or octocrylene. Concentrations also accumulated over time—reaching as high as 4.3 ng/mL for avobenzone and 209.6 ng/mL for oxybenzone, within just a few days!
Stay natural and organic
We simply don’t know what these chemicals do in our bodies at those insane concentrations. But we do know that oxybenzone is detectable in breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine, and blood. And that it’s a documented endocrine disruptor.
So I trust that I don’t need to point out the danger here. Though I’ll go ahead and share the study authors’ conclusion, which sums up the problem pretty well:
“Sunscreen users reasonably presume that companies that manufacture and sell sunscreens have conducted basic studies to support the safety and effectiveness of their products and that the medical profession would demand high-quality evidence. However, sunscreens have not been subjected to standard drug safety testing, and clinicians and consumers lack data on systemic drug levels despite decades of widespread use.”
As a result, for once, the FDA (and our tax dollars) are working hard. In fact, the agency had to fund this research themselves. Because guess what? They tried to get sunscreen manufacturers to fork over this critical safety data voluntarily… and failed.
I couldn’t possibly count the number of ways that this fact appalls me. How is it that our government’s main regulating agency—the very entity responsible for gatekeeping what we’re allowed to put on or in our bodies—can’t get a company to provide data to support the safety of its products?
But then, what would the FDA do with that information anyway? If we were talking about a dietary supplement, the company would be shuttered in moments. But as it stands, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of consequences.
I haven’t used conventional sunscreen in years. And luckily for me, I have Mediterranean skin that doesn’t easily burn. But if you must use sunscreen—and let’s be honest, plenty of people do—stick with an option that uses organic or natural ingredients. Which means you need to look for one of two ingredients: Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. My personal favorites are sunscreens by Lavera, Aubrey, Earth’s Best, and Soleo.
If you have trouble finding an option on store shelves, you may have to order online. (Unless you’re in Europe, where those options are more common.) But, better to be safe than sorry. Because if nothing else, I promise this is one purchase that’s worth a little extra legwork.
“FDA Finds High Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen Ingredients.” Medscape Medical News, 05/06/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/912651)