What You Need to Know About Sunscreens



By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


When it comes to our skin, we all should be mindful of what we put on it. It is the body’s largest organ and absorbs a lot of what we put on it: cosmetics, lotions, antibiotic creams and, of course, sunscreens.

You’ve probably noticed that there are many skincare products that are popular for being natural and organic. People are also avoiding products with fragrance in order to avoid putting unnecessary chemicals on their skin. Aluminum-free and natural deodorants are big.

Many people wear sunscreen everyday, especially if they live in sunny California. Some sun is great for us, because we need the vitamin D. But, obviously, too much sun exposure without skin protection may lead to the development of skin cancers such as melanoma. And no, darker-skinned people are not immune to skin cancer!

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found evidence which suggested that chemicals in sunscreen are absorbed into the body “at levels that raise some safety questions,” according to one report discussing the study.

Basically, they found that active ingredients in popular sunscreens can be absorbed through the skin and into the blood at levels that go beyond what the FDA considers to be safe. Concentrations past 0.5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) are considered to be too high according to the FDA’s standards.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “...sunscreens commonly include ingredients that act as 'penetration enhancers' to help the product adhere to skin. As a result, many sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body and can be measured in blood, breast milk and urine samples.”

To be clear, the study is not suggesting that the chemicals in sunscreen are, in fact, unsafe. It simply wants people to understand that our skin is able to absorb these materials at a higher concentration than what is deemed to be considered safe for any material by the FDA.

According to the report, “...both the agency and skin cancer experts were quick to stress that there is no proof that sunscreen ingredients cause any harm. And people should keep using the products to prevent sunburn and curb the risk of skin cancer.”

There is still a lot of research to do on the use of sunscreens.

"Rather, this finding calls for further industry testing to determine the safety and effect of systemic exposure of sunscreen ingredients, especially with chronic use," said one of the directors with the FDA.

In most sunscreens, active ingredients include:

  • Avobenzone

  • Oxybenzone

  • Octocrylene

  • Ecamsule

Some are concerned that these ingredients may cause hormonal disruption and even skin cancer, but, again, the recent study says that there is no definitive proof of this. 

I would, however, advise pregnant, breastfeeding women and women trying to get pregnant to be especially mindful.

The National Institutes of Health reports that oxybenzone is an absorber used in 70 percent of sunscreen products, and it is a recognized endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC). It can also pass through skin and placenta barriers. 

“Numerous studies have identified this chemical in the urine/blood of pregnant women as well as in fetal and umbilical cord blood. A recent study demonstrated that women with medium to high levels of oxybenzone in their urine was associated with giving birth to neonates with Hirschsprung's Disease (HSCR),” reports the NIH.

The good news is that there are alternatives.

Monitor your time in the sun. Seek shade and wear protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats and light, long-sleeved shirts. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect your precious eyes!

And if you want to avoid chemical-based sunscreens completely, you can go for mineral sunscreens. These contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin and act as a shield. They are not absorbed.

For more tips on skin health and skincare tips, check out these pH Labs blogs. And don’t forget, maintaining a nutrient-rich diet goes a long way.

In one report, a dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology said, "There are definitely foods that we eat that can boost our ability to protect our skin from the sun.” These foods include antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies.

So my words of wisdom to you on this issue? Take care of your skin, and love the skin you're in!


Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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