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Sunscreen Chemicals in the Bloodstream

By Kim Robson:

Here at Green Mom, we’ve been keeping an eye on sunscreens. Not just why they are important for kidsbut also about recent banson sunscreen in Hawaii, Key West, and Palau amid concerns about chemical damage to coral reefs. In particular, oxybenzoneand octinoxate, commonly found in over 3,500 sunscreens, are the most concerning. They can be found in popular sunscreens including Coppertone, Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic.

A recent studyfocused on four chemicals: avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, and octocrylene. It found that three of them continued to rise in blood concentration as daily use continued and remained in the bloodstream for at least 24 hours after use ended. Twenty-four participants were randomly assigned to a spray or lotion sunscreen that included avobenzone, oxybenzone or octocrylene as ingredients, or to a cream sunscreen that included the chemical ecamsule.

Participants applied the sunscreen to 75% of their bodies four times a day over four days. Thirty blood samples taken over seven days revealed that 5 out of 6 people using the ecamsule cream had statistically significant levels of the chemical in their bloodstream by the end of the first day. After the first day all of the participants had significant levels of the other three chemicals, especially oxybenzone.

David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said,  “Looking through the results tables of the study, one thing about oxybenzone stood out. Oxybenzone was absorbed into the body at about 50 to 100 times higher concentration than any of these other three chemicals they tested.”

Is oxybenzone a big problem? Only if you’re concerned about lower testosterone levelsin adolescent boys, hormone changesin adult men, foreshortened pregnancies and disrupted birth weightsin babies.Unlike those other three ingredients, oxybenzone — a commonly known cause of contact allergies— in fact caused a positive reaction in 70% of the people exposed to it in apatch test. In Switzerland, a studyfound oxybenzone (or another of those other three sunscreen chemicals) in 85% of breast milk samples.

According to the EWG, oxybenzone is used in two-thirds of all chemically-based sunscreens sold in the United States. They recommend mineral sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which creates a physical, not chemical, barrier to the sun. Also, seek shade, particularly between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when UV rays are strongest. Wear long-sleeved shirts and a wide-brimmed hat.

Yale School of Medicine dermatologist Dr. David Leffell, a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology, says, “Studies need to be performed to evaluate this finding and determine whether there are true medical implications to absorption of certain ingredients. In the meantime, people should continue to be aggressive about sun protection.”

For more information on which sunscreens ARE safe to use, refer to the EWG Guide to Sunscreens; and this summer consider alternatives to sunscreen, such as staying under shade structures, wearing sun-protective clothing, or try making this homemade natural sunscreen from Wellness Mama:

Homemade Sunscreen 


  • ½ cup almond or olive oil (natural SPF 5)
  • ¼ cup coconut oil (natural SPF 5)
  • ¼ cup beeswax
  • 2 TBS zinc oxide powder (natural SPF 20)
  • 1 tsp red raspberry seed oil ( natural SPF 25-50)
  • 1 tsp carrot seed oil ( natural SPF 35-40)
  • 2 TBS shea butter (natural SPF 4-6)
  • Optional essential oils such as vanilla or lavender (no citrus oils, though, as they increase sun sensitivity)

Combine all ingredients except zinc oxide in a glass mason jar. Place jar in a medium-heat water bath to melt the ingredients. Shake or stir occasionally to combine. Once everything is melted, add the zinc oxide (take care not to inhale it) and stir well to incorporate. Pour into smaller jars or tins for storage. Do not use a lotion pump. Store at room temperature. This sunscreen is not waterproof or sweatproof, so it should be reapplied after swimming or exercising.

EXTRA CRISPY? NEW FDA REGS FOR SUNSCREEN – Sunburn certainly isn’t reserved for the young; however, a day at the beach will reveal more “rookies” glowing than older age groups. (Air Force File Photo)

If all this is too much to tackle, Badger Balmmakes reef safe and kid friendly sunscreens that are free of toxic chemicals, using only zinc oxide and skin-soothing ingredients; and they’re water resistant, too!

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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