For decades, we've been told that wearing a sunscreen lotion is the single most effective way to protect against sunburn and related sun-related skin damage. Sunscreen lotion contains various ingredients that reflect the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light. Some sunscreen lotions are designed only to reflect UVA light, whereas others reflect both UVA and UVB light. Regardless, it's well-known that wearing sunscreen lotion will reduce your risk of developing sunburn.
While medical experts still recommend that adults and children alike wear sunscreen lotion when staying outdoors for a prolonged period, a new study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has raised concerns about the potential health hazards associated with sunscreen use.
In the study, FDA researchers analyzed participants who used common sunscreen lotions. Researchers found that some participants had significantly high levels of oxybenzone, octorcrylene and other potentially harmful chemicals in their body.
What does this study mean exactly? It means that sunscreen lotion, while generally applied topically to the skin, can easily enter your bloodstream. After applying sunscreen lotion to your skin, some of the active ingredients will slowly absorb into the pores of your skin, at which point it will enter your bloodstream.
You don't have to stop using sunscreen lotion just yet, however. The FDA is now urging sunscreen lotion companies to conduct their own studies to further investigate the potential health hazards of their products.
"The systemic absorption of sunscreen ingredients supports the need for further studies to determine the clinical significance of these findings,” wrote the FDA in its study. “These results do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen.”
Of course, there are other ways to protect against sunburn besides lathering your skin in sunscreen lotion. Covering your skin with clothing, for example, will naturally protect against the sun's UV rays. You can also avoid or limit the amount of time you spend outdoors during the midday hours. The sun's UV rays are the strongest during the middle of the day, so planning your outdoor activities for the morning or late afternoon will naturally reduce your risk of sunburn.
And if you happen to experience a sunburn, keep it moisturized while staying indoors until it has healed. While painful, sunburn is usually a temporary condition that heals on its own -- you just need to avoid further exposure to sunlight.
This study was published in the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA).