How Safe Is Sunscreen?

How Safe Is Sunscreen?

A very small preliminary study has been done to assess whether 4 sunscreen ingredients can be absorbed through the skin into the blood stream and some of the the headlines made it a little sensational. So let's look at the facts. 

The sunscreen ingredients studied are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule.  These are currently approved by the US FDA (US Food & Drug Administration) and are common ingredients in many sunscreens, especially those produced in the US. 1

Twenty-four participants in this study had sunscreen spray, lotion or cream applied very thickly (2mg/1cm2) to 75% of their body 4 times a day for 4 days.  Blood samples were taken throughout this time to evaluate levels of the sunscreen ingredients in the blood.

All 4 sunscreen ingredients were detectable in the blood.

 It’s very important to understand that this was a preliminary study and further investigation now needs to be done.  Also, the amount of sunscreen applied to participants was far more than would normally be applied by any individual on a sunny summer day.

Unfortunately, the headlines that hit the internet were somewhat sensationalised. This study was not done to establish whether sunscreens are safe or not.  It was done to see whether the 4 ingredients entered the blood stream and if so, what levels could be detected.  With this information, more study can now be done to identify any specific toxicological issues.

There are still a number of people who will not wear sunscreen because they are afraid that the chemicals in the ingredients may cause some health issues. And when studies like this are not fully explained – it compounds that problem.

But the facts are irrefutable: UV radiation causes skin cancer.  The largest randomised study in the world – the ‘Nambour study’3 clearly shows that sunscreen use reduces the incidence of melanoma, and the latest recommendations out of QIMR Berghofer Research Institute in Australia are that sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin every single day.  This small study on 4 sunscreen ingredients ends with this important note:

“The systemic absorption of sunscreen ingredients supports the need for further studies to determine the clinical significance of these findings. These results do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen. 1

Currently, any claim that sunscreen ingredients may have a deleterious effect on one’s health is spurious.  The one proven fact is that UV radiation causes skin cancer and daily use of sunscreen is just one way we can reduce this risk.


What you can do:

  1. Read the label!

If you have concerns about the ingredients tested in this study, check out the ingredient list of the sunscreen before you buy it.  Reading ingredient labels can be very challenging, but once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to spot ingredients that you may not be comfortable with.


also known as:


Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane 


Trade names: Milestab 9, Eusolex 4360, Escalol 567, 



also known as:


Trade names: Parsol 1789, Milestab 1789, Eusolex 9020, Escalol 517, Neo Heliopan 35.      



also known as:

(2-ethylhexyl-2-ciano-3, 3-diphenyl acrylate), 

Trade names: Octocrilene, Uvinul N-539, Neo heliopan 303, Parsol 340



also known as:

Terephthalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid

Trade name: Mexoryl SX

  1. Choose zinc-only sunscreens.
  1. Make sure the sunscreen you are purchasing carries the AS/NZ 2604:2012 standard. This will be listed on the packaging.  This standard ensures the sunscreen complies to Australasian standards.
  1. Wear sunscreen every day!



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