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Why Should You Care if the Chemicals in Sunscreen are Absorbed into your Bloodstream?

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Your Skin is Your Largest Organ

Your skin is like a sponge and it can absorb some of what you put on it. Skin absorption is the transport of chemicals from the outer surface of the skin both into the skin and into circulation. Skin absorption relates to the degree of exposure to and possible effect of a substance which may enter the body through the skin.

Absorption of substances through the skin depends on a number of factors, the most important of which are concentration, duration of contact, solubility of medication, and physical condition of the skin and part of the body exposed. The amount of chemical that is absorbed through the skin can be measured directly or indirectly.

So why are consumers starting to take notice of this now, when chemical sunscreens have been stated to be hazardous for many years?

Sunscreen chemicals were approved decades ago, before anyone suspected they could be absorbed into the body.

Chemical sunscreens filters contain compounds that catalyze a chemical reaction when exposed to the sun; this reaction transforms UV rays into heat, which is then released from the skin. Contrary to what sunscreen manufacturers have been saying, UV-blocking chemicals do seep into circulation. 

Researchers at the FDA revealed the results of a small clinical trial designed to test how four of the most common sun-filtering molecules on the market behave after they’ve been sprayed on and rubbed in. The results, published in the journal JAMA, show that contrary to what sunscreen manufacturers have been saying, UV-blocking chemicals do seep into circulation.

“Everyone had always thought that because these are intended to work on the surface of the skin that they wouldn’t be absorbed, but they are,” says Theresa Michele, director of the FDA’s division of nonprescription drug products, and coauthor on the FDA-funded study. Her team found that it took only a few hours after the application of sunscreen for the photoprotective chemicals to infiltrate the bloodstream and shoot up to concentrations above the FDA’s toxicology threshold that triggers further safety testing.

The CDC reports that close to 97 percent of Americans have oxybenzone in their bodies; another study found that 85 percent of nursing mothers in the European Union have at least one UV filter in their breast milk.

The fact that these sun-filtering molecules do penetrate into the circulatory system does not on its own mean that such ingredients are unsafe. “There might be nothing, and that would be great,” says Kanade Shinkai, a dermatologist at UC San Francisco and editor in chief of JAMA Dermatology. “But the problem is that we just don’t know.” The bottom line, she says, is that although the evidence is irrefutable that the sun causes skin cancer, scientists know a lot less about sunscreen chemicals’ relative risks and benefits. To prove they’re safe and effective, the FDA is now asking US sunscreen makers to submit additional data measuring how these ingredients absorb into the bloodstream.

Many of these sunscreens are ineffective and studies have shown in addition to hormone disruption, skin penetration, skin allergies, cell damage and other concerns.

Chemical Sunscreens are also Destroying Coral Reefs

In 2018, Hawaii signed the first bill in the U.S. to ban the sale of sunscreen chemicals that are toxic to coral reefs and marine life.

The study conducted on sunscreen chemicals destroying coral reefs was published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The Study found that the chemical oxybenzone has toxic effects on young coral that causes endocrine disruption, DNA damage and death of coral, among other problems.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are destroying the oceans around the world, according to scientists whose research has shown that the chemicals break down coral by leaching it of nutrients and disrupt the development of fish and marine life, like sea urchins and algae. Coral reject symbiotic organisms and lose their color.

In February 2019, Key West, Florida has voted to ban certain sunscreens in an effort to protect coral reefs in its surrounding waters. 

As one of the speakers at the meeting, I discussed one of the commission's main concerns of the Key West City Commission, that there are that are safe, effective and natural mineral sunscreens that meet the required FDA testing for SPF, water resistance and broad spectrum and that Love Sun Body Sunscreens also meet the more stringent European commission’s recommendation for UVA protection.

The measure which the City Commission approved Tuesday, February 5, 2019 in a 6-to-1 vote that will ban sales of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. The legislation will go into effect on January 1, 2021. 

Citing the need to protect and preserve marine ecosystems including coral reefs, the US Virgin Island territory's Senate Committee on Government Operations unanimously voted to push the bill No. 33-0043 forward to the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Monday, May 20, 2019. The US territory of the Virgin Islands has become the latest community to consider a ban on certain sunscreen ingredients over concerns that they pose a risk to coral reefs and other marine life. 

The bill cites concerns that the two substances oxybenzone and octinoxate – which are contained in many sunscreen and personal care products. The bill states that these ingredients have "significant harmful impacts on the Virgin Islands’ marine environment and ecosystem".

Mineral UV Filters

Only two ingredients so far have been ruled safe and effective—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both mineral sunscreens that do not penetrate and are not absorbed through the skin and are generally recognized as safe and effective for use in sunscreens. The FDA has sufficient evidence that they are GRASE Category I. Thus, the safety evaluation does not need to consider more than direct effects on the skin.

What is safe for your body & the planet?

Many sunscreen manufactures utilize zinc oxide nanoparticles (less than 35 nanometers in diameter), often referred to as clear zinc sunscreen. Nano zinc oxide particles are very harmful for marine organisms, which induces a severe and fast coral bleaching due to the alteration of the symbiosis between coral and zooxanthellae.

Non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide are the only coral-safe sunscreen filters and they are claimed safe and effective in blocking UV rays by the FDA, Health Canada and the European Commission. Sunscreens formulated with non-nano particles will clearly state "non-nano zinc oxide and/or non-nano titanium dioxide on the products active ingredient list".

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