Effects of Chemical Sunscreen on Your Body | WELL Aging Sun Care

Effects of Chemical Sunscreen on Your Body

With all the attention that’s focused on cancer and keeping yourself healthy, skin care needs to be a top consideration as well.

People around the world work and play outdoors in all kinds of environments. Some are weekend warriors hitting the basketball courts or tending their garden, and others work in extreme conditions day in and day out like farmers and construction workers.

Whether it’s a sunny day or overcast, the sun can do a number on your skin, even penetrating through the clouds. And in order to protect yourself and your loved ones, you lean on sunscreens to keep your skin healthy and safe from toxic UV rays that are blasting down from the skies. But there is one question you should be asking yourself...

What’s in your sunscreen?

Since you slather, spray, or squirt the stuff on your body, potentially inhaling or ingesting some of it, wouldn’t it be wise to learn what ingredients go into this product you may be reapplying every two hours?

  • How is it protecting you?
  • Does it sit on the skin or penetrate the layers?
  • Are there toxic concerns?
  • Is it doing harm to my kids if I’m reapplying it as often as needed?

So many questions!

First things first. There are two kinds of sunscreen products available:

  1. Mineral (aka Physical), and
  2. Chemical

Check your ingredient label to see which one you’re using. If it contains the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, these have already been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have the green flag as safe ingredients.

However, if your chosen brand contains any of the following, you’ll want to keep reading: 

  • Aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Avobenzone
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Ensulizole
  • Homosalate
  • Meradimate
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Oxybenzone
  • Padimate O
  • Sulisobenzone
  • Trolamine Salicylate


Products that contain these ingredients are easy to find. In fact, many well-known name brands contain one or more of them. The problem with this is the fact that while the FDA proposed new regulations to update requirements for sunscreens within the U.S., they aren’t necessarily getting the information needed. They are requesting manufacturers of nonprescription sunscreens to give more data on their products.

Sunscreens are required to be generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE). This includes over-the-counter sunscreens. Mineral based zinc oxide and titanium oxide meet the GRASE requirement. They work by coating the skin and providing a protective layer from the sun. They also have less likelihood of irritating the skin and most offer moisturizing properties.

On the flip side, PABA and trolamine salicylate did not make the GRASE list because of safety issues and therefore are not safe for sunscreen ingredients.

According to the FDA, the above list of 14 ingredients has insufficient data for it to be determined if they meet the GRASE requirement. Any products that combine sunscreen and insect repellent will not be GRASE.

They’re also requiring companies to list active ingredients on the front of sunscreen packaging to have consistency with other over-the-counter drugs. This includes reminders to read any alerts for products that have not been proven to help the prevention of skin cancer or skin aging.

Sunscreens that are made with a chemical base are designed to penetrate the skin, keeping the sun’s damaging rays from causing cancerous cells to form and the decreasing the sun’s effects on aging. However, while it is offering protection, it’s being absorbed into our blood stream with every application. Not only that, but they are more likely to cause skin irritation or rashes, acne, and contact dermatitis.

According to a study completed in 2019 which included 48 volunteers who had chemical sunscreens applied over the course of 21 days, with each application, researchers saw a rise in the levels of these chemicals in the blood. These levels exceeded the FDA’s limits that would potentially allow the manufacturer to waive many additional tests.

If applied as directed, approximately 2 tablespoons every 2 hours, more often if involved in water activities or sweating profusely, the amount of sunscreen needed over a five-day vacation would leave significant levels of these chemicals in the body. For someone who works outside regularly, levels would be even higher. And studies show that the levels of these chemicals stay in our systems for extended periods of time.

While these chemical ingredients need more studies, several appear to disrupt the endocrine system. In animal and cellular studies, it’s been proven that chemical filters cause hormone disruptions that influence reproduction as well as development. A modification occurs in both the reproductive hormone and the thyroid hormone, though some studies have mixed results.

Animals exposed to oxybenzone and octinoxate showed abnormalities in their sperm as well as a lowered sperm count. For some, exposure to octinoxate caused a delay in puberty, and in female mice who were exposed to oxybenzone, a typical reaction was a change in estrous cycle. Though most of these results were produced in laboratory animal studies, preliminary studies suggest changes in humans as well.

According to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the State University of New York, Albany, there may be a link between exposure to benzophenones and men having less success reproducing due to a poor quality of sperm. Women exposed to oxybenzone and other similar chemicals are more likely to suffer from endometriosis.

While more studies on these chemicals need to be done, skipping out on sunscreen completely is a bad idea. Until researchers are able to clear the way for some of these chemicals, there are several options on the market for mineral sunscreen which are deemed both safe and effective by the FDA.

In addition to wearing sunscreen, you can utilize protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses as well as staying in the shade as much as possible during the most damaging hours of sun exposure.

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