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Sunscreen Takes a Hit – Only 2 Ingredients Will be Left with “Safe” Status from the FDA

I’ve been saying for YEARS that we must stop using conventional sunscreen because of its endocrine disrupting quality (and other reasons). As of last month, February 2019, the science is finally starting to get some momentum beyond the Internet and the FDA is paying attention.

sunscreen ingredients are dangerous for children

What’s an “Endocrine Disruptor?” 

Quite simply, it’s a chemical that interferes with, destroys, or mimics human hormones – the endocrine system of our bodies.

There are plenty of endocrine disruptors in your house, from BPA in plastics and dental work, phthalates in baby toys and personal care products, flame retardant pajamas and mattresses, non-stick cookware and more.

And they have massive impacts on our health, from fetal development to infertility, and even cancer risk, nervous systems and immune function. (sources: EPA, NIH)

Treat Our Kids as Carefully as we Treat the Oceans

pristine ocean

Endocrine disruptors are no joke, and last year when Hawaii banned oxybenzone and octinoxate, two active ingredients in most conventional sunscreen, I was thrilled. It was not only a win for the environment but for human health, since I know those ingredients are endocrine-disrupting (and never allowed on my family).

Now the researchers who instigated Hawaii’s ban (which has now been followed by Key West, FL, Palau, and Aruba) are taking on endocrine disruption. This is incredibly timely, because just a month ago, the FDA proposed to remove the GRASE (Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective) status from all sunscreen active ingredients except zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. 

GRASE Removed for Active Sunscreen Ingredients?Research Proves Oxybenzone Endocrine Disruptor

This is huge! If the proposed rule goes through as written, the sunscreen industry will have to finally admit that they’ve been selling products that hurt humans for years, and we’ve been buying them in droves out of fear of skin cancer. In reality, since sunscreen began including these ingredients and has been used more regularly by the American people, melanoma has increased 4-fold in men and 3-fold in women (2018 report from the American Cancer Society).

Here’s a bit from the proposed rule:

Because the public record does not currently contain sufficient data to support positive GRASE determinations for cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, or avobenzone, we are proposing that these ingredients are Category III. For example, the available literature includes studies indicating that oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin to a greater extent than previously understood and can lead to significant systemic exposure, as well as data showing the presence of oxybenzone in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine, and blood plasma. The significant systemic availability of oxybenzone, coupled with a lack of data evaluating the full extent of its absorption potential, is a concern, among other reasons, because of questions raised in the published literature regarding the potential for endocrine activity in connection with systemic oxybenzone exposure. Nearly all of these sunscreen active ingredients also have limited or no data characterizing their absorption. (source: FDA)
sunscreen on children's faces

In other words, every sunscreen ingredient other than zinc oxide and titanium dioxide may be causing more problems than the FDA realized and also may be absorbed in greater amounts than the FDA expected when it granted GRASE status initially. If all goes well, GRASE status will be removed from these active sunscreen ingredients until further research is done to prove safety, if that’s possible.

In a press release from March 18, 2019, Haereticus Environmental Laboratory shared more background:

Part of this safety-concern rests with the pre-clinical toxicological data generated by the U.S. Health & Human Services’ National Toxicology Program, showing that some of these chemicals, such as oxybenzone can cause endocrine disruption to reproductive physiology, such as reduced sperm density, reduced prostate in juveniles, changes in the estrous cycle, and reduction in immunity. In one clinical study, boys who were exposed to oxybenzone exhibited lower testosterone levels. Oxybenzone exposure has also been linked to increases in endometriosis, alters lactation expression, as well as some birth defects.
don't use oxybenzone in sunscreens on children - it's not safe!

Want Healthy Grandkids? Ditch the Conventional Sunscreen!

A 2016 study led by F. Scinicariello reported that environmental exposure to oxybenzone in adolescent boys (ages 12-19) was associated with significantly lower testosterone levels. “Low T” causes a myriad of issues for both developing boys and men, including but not limited to lower sperm density and possible infertility problems. It’s not just mice, in other words.

For our little girls, oxybenzone may increase the likelihood of endometriosis, impact lactation negatively and cause birth defects. (RELATED: New research shows link between oxybenzone and Hirschsprung’s Disease, a serious intestinal blockage with an 80% mortality rate for newborns!) Again, there are also 13 other chemical sunscreen ingredients under fire here, at least 5 more of which are endocrine disrupting. We only have one body – and it all piles up in the same systems, derailing healthy balance.

Attached to the simplicity of the sprays? I know, I know…but convenience has its price. There are plenty of reasons spray sunscreen isn’t a good idea, and hormone disrupting chemicals are only the beginning.

Does the Dose Make the Poison?

parents should not use conventional sunscreen ingredients on their kids, especially oxybenzone

Unfortunately many oppose this science because they feel studies have been done using far more than what an actual human being would use in their lifetime, but Dr. Craig Downs and Joseph DiNardo crunched the numbers and disagree. Their findings show that even at a normal application rate, kids are exposed to toxic levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals, just from sunscreen.

In a paper published in the Clinical Dermatology Research Journal this month, the two scientists posit the following (paraphrased):

  1. 6 ingredients in conventional sunscreens are all endocrine disruptors: avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octocrylene, octisalate and/or oxybenzone
  2. All 6 cause reactions that aren’t “species specific” (which means we may extrapolate research done on animals).
  3. Over 100 sunscreen products are marketed for children using a combination of these ingredients – generally at about 32% concentration.
  4. All 6 can easily pass through human skin because of their low molecular weight.
  5. Endocrine disruptors can work together to increase the toxicity.

Downs and DiNardo ran numbers on oxybenzone and mice and found that if a child applies the recommended amount of sunscreen, s/he would be just over the level showing “observable adverse effects” in mice. And that’s on oxybenzone alone!

Add in the other active ingredients, multiply by the average concentration, and follow the “sunscreen rules” recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology and the FDA for 10 years? Children aged 2-12 will receive between 1.5 and 5.5 times the lowest UNsafe amount of endocrine disrupting chemicals, and that’s not even taking into account other exposures that almost certainly occur!

Here’s the chart (the Lowest Observable Adverse Effect in mice was 22.75ppm):

chart of LOAEL of oxybenzone in children

Read the paper (galley proof) in full here on Kitchen Stewardship®.

What About Babies?

The news isn’t any better for babies. In fact, “the Swedish Research Council ruled sunscreens with oxybenzone are unsuitable for use in children under the age of two years because they lack the enzymes to breakdown the chemical,” according to the paper cited above.

So it could be much, much worse for them.

Good news – there are plenty of safe sunscreens for babies that use only zinc oxide, which is also the active ingredient in diaper cream, to give you an idea of how safe it is for that tiny person’s skin.

What About Sunscreen Lip Balm?

This is even worse, because your kids (and you) likely ingest 100% of the endocrine disrupting chemicals from lip balms instead of 8% or so through the skin. I see more and more lip balms using oxybenzone so they can slap an SPF on there as a marketing tool. 🙁

Just. Don’t. Buy. Them!

The Bottom Line: What Parents Need to Know About Sunscreen Ingredients

Although the FDA hasn’t officially removed “Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective” status from all these sunscreen ingredients, the government takes a long time to move. We all know this.

If you wait until it’s “official,” you’re just going to have a few more years of regrets, reduced sperm count, birth defects, cancer risk and unanswered questions. Start avoiding these chemicals now, because it’s not even that hard!

The 2 ingredients that the FDA feels are the safest are the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and our family reviewed over 100 brands of mineral sunscreen. There are plenty of great options to choose from, and switching your brand isn’t even a massive lifestyle change. You can also seek shade more often and wear sun protective UPF clothing if you’re ready for a bigger leap to avoid hormone disruptors.

How do you feel about the FDA potentially removing GRASE status after allowing these products for so many years?

Read all my sunscreen posts here.

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researchers comment on the dangers of conventional sunscreen ingredients

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