An FDA study found that chemicals in many common sunscreens can be absorbed into your blood, but experts say you shouldn't stop using sunscreen altogether.
The study, published Monday, found four active ingredients common in sunscreens - avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule - enter the bloodstream at levels that far exceed the FDA's recommended threshold without a government safety inspection.
Sunscreens with those ingredients, especially oxybenzone, should be avoided, says Nneka Leiba, the director of healthy living science at the nonprofit advocacy group, the Environmental Working Group, but alternatives exist.
"Don't shun sunscreens in general," Leiba said "But lean toward using the mineral products available."
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So is my sunscreen unsafe?
While the FDA found that the active ingredients in the sunscreens are entering people's bloodstreams, more research is needed to understand their impacts on human health, the study authors and experts say.
Oxybenzone is a potential endocrine disruptor, meaning it can affect growth, development and reproduction, Leiba said. According to her group, studies have shown it is a weak estrogen and can lower testosterone in adolescent boys. As a result, Leiba said sunscreens with oxybenzone should be avoided.
Oxybenzone may also be partially responsible for damaging coral reefs, scientists have said initial research shows. Hawaii last year became the first state to ban sales of sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate, and other states have also considered similar bans.
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As for the other three chemicals in the FDA study, more research is needed to understand how they affect humans, Leiba said.
"What we do know is that all these (sunscreens) have been used for decades in the U.S.," said Dr. Henry W. Lim, a former president of the American Academy of Dermatology. " And thus far, there have been no reported data of systemic, internal side effects from the use of sunscreen."
In a statement in response to the study, the American Academy of Dermatology encouraged people to continue using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher along with other protective measures.
Lim also said that while the pilot study was scientifically designed, the amount and frequency of sunscreen applied was much higher than the average person would use.
But while the study doesn't prove whether the sunscreens are safe or unsafe, it does highlight problems with how they're regulated, Leiba said.
"We're highly exposed, but these chemicals haven't been adequately tested. That shows the backward nature of product regulation in the United States," she said.
How common are these ingredients?
The four ingredients tested by the FDA are among the most common active ingredients in sunscreens, Leiba said.
Last year, oxybenzone was in two-thirds of non-mineral sunscreens, she added.
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Are sunscreens without these ingredients available?
Yes. Mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients are just as effective, Lim and Leiba say.
Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases a list of sunscreens that it deems safe for people and the environment. And luckily, these products are becoming more widely available and affordable, Leiba said.
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Last year, the group listed more than 240 safe sunscreens. Many major brands also have mineral-only options, too, Leiba said.
Look at the labels on the back of products to find the active ingredients, and know that the front of labels can be deceiving as to how "safe" a sunscreen is, Leiba said.
However, there are downsides to these alternatives. Lim said those sunscreens do not have high SPFs (although doctors do not recommend using too high of an SPF) and they can create white discoloration for users with darker skin.
How else can I protect myself and my children?
Using sunscreen is just one part of the larger package of sun protection, Lim said.
Stay in the shade, cover yourself in long sleeves and wear sunglasses to better protect yourself from sun damage, Lim said. "Sunscreen is a component, but not the only component."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sunscreen seeping into you blood? This is the safest kind to use, experts say