Summer Cookout – Sunscreens
Heard about sunscreen recalls? In this post, we revisit sunscreen ingredients and learn about what the sunscreen recall means for us.
Updated: July 19, 2021
What are the different types of sunscreens?
Sunscreen products help protect our skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. There are two types of sun rays UVA and UVB that are known to damage skin and can cause skin cancers over time.
To combat the sun exposure, scientists developed lotions, sprays, oils, creams, gels, butters, pastes, ointments, and sticks that contain active ingredients that can help protect our skin from the damaging UVA and UVB rays.
Two types of active ingredients can provide broad-spectrum sunscreen coverage:
- Mineral-based sunscreen.
- Synthetic-based sunscreens.
What are the active ingredients found in sunscreens?
Mineral-based sunscreens use titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or these ingredients in combination to provide sun protection.
Synthetic-based sunscreen use cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, avobenzone, or some combination of these ingredients to provide sun protection.
Are sunscreens regulated?
Yes, sunscreens are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure they meet safety and efficacy standards.
How are mineral-based sunscreens different than a synthetically-derived sunscreen?
While both mineral and synthetically-derived sunscreens provide sun protection, our bodies absorb and process them differently.
As we’ve discussed in prior posts, our skin is an exposure route. While our skin generally serves as a barrier to prevent the entry of harmful pathogens and chemicals, it can sometimes absorb and process topically applied ingredients.
Mineral-based sunscreens contain active ingredients that researchers have repeatedly studied. Based on the scientific consensus, researchers determined they do not pose harm to human health. So mineral-based sunscreens received the designation as generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE), when used as intended, and do not require any further safety evaluations (1,2).
Our skin can absorb some of the synthetically-derived sunscreen ingredients, and these ingredients can make their way throughout our bodies. Research shows some of the active ingredients can be found in our bloodstream.
Since there is no scientific consensus on these ingredients, scientists are researching what if any impact this has on our health before issuing a final safety determination.
What about recent voluntary sunscreen product recalls?
Recently, some sunscreen and sun product manufacturers have issued product recalls in an abundance of caution because a laboratory found the presence of an ingredient called benzene in some aerosol sunscreen and sun products.
Regulators have determined that when unavoidable, a therapeutically necessary product can contain up to 2 parts per million (ppm) (parts per million explained) of benzene. However, some products exceeded that threshold while other products did not. Some have suggested that sunscreen and sun-related products are not significantly therapeutic to warrant the ingredients inclusion.
Since benzene appears to be a contaminate, meaning manufacturers did not intentionally add the ingredient to the product, some companies have decided to recall the sunscreen. While the sunscreen products have not been shown to cause harm, the companies are choosing to err on the side of extreme caution.
Some publications have suggested that the benzene contamination may originate from an organic sunscreen molecule that naturally contains a structure known as a benzene-ring, we could not verify the feasibility of this claim.
It's easy to speculate about the source of the contamination, but it's important to get the science correct before labeling any ingredient as harmful or hazardous.
Are they safe?
While research is underway around synthetic-based sunscreens, the FDA still recommends people use sunscreens that contain these synthetic active ingredients in conjunction with other sun-protective practices to protect our skin.
As we’ve discussed in prior posts, the presence of a chemical doesn’t necessarily mean it’s causing harm or that our bodies cannot effectively process and eliminate the ingredients. We do know that without sunscreen, we can cause severe damage to our skin that can lead to burns and over time potentially skin cancer.
Mineral-based sunscreen is considered safe by the FDA and is known to provide robust sun protection without any known side effects.
The good news.
While we’re still learning more about the active ingredients in sunscreen, we do know that there are many safe options for sun protection. By learning more about these ingredients, scientists can continue to develop new and better products to protect us from damaging sun rays