The FDA just did something remarkable with sunscreens

The FDA just did something remarkable with sunscreens

© 2019 Arthur W. Perry, MD

Last week, the FDA said that the only two sunscreen ingredients that are safe and effective are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  That’s absolutely remarkable.  But not to me.  I’ve been saying that for years and even went on the Dr. Oz television showstating this.  And every sunscreen I’ve ever designed, including my Dr. Perry’s DayThyme SPF20 and my upcoming Dr. Perry’s SunThyme SPF30, include only the safest zinc oxide. 

The FDA’s new rule proposes to ban PABA and trolamine salicylate, two of the most dangerous sunscreen ingredients.  That leaves 12 so-called “chemical” sunscreens on the market, although right now the FDA does not consider them to be generally recognized as safe and effective.  So, if the FDA is not convinced they’re safe, why would you?

The FDA also will require all SPF 15 or higher sunscreens to be effective against UVB (which the SPF measures) and UVA (which has nothing to do with the measured SPF).  That’s good for consumers, because the average person really should not need a chemistry degree in order to be able to use safe sunscreen.

You may wonder why companies want to make sunscreens with unsafe ingredients.  Two reasons – they are cheap and the chemicals are easy to work with.  And while I don’t generally like government intervention in our lives, this is where it is necessary.  If you are happy with the short story, stop reading here…. But if you want to know why I, as a plastic surgeon and biologist consider sunscreens with chemical ingredients unsafe, keep reading…(In the spirit of scientific accuracy, I've even included some scientific references for you...)

The FDA is worried about chemical sunscreens with an unproven safety record. The scariest thing is their potential to cause cancer.  Benzophenones may cause ovarian and breast cancer, leukemia and other cancers. [1][2][3][4] [5][6].  PABA and Padimate-O are also suspected carcinogens [7][8][9][10].   Ensulizole damages DNA and might also be a carcinogen.[11]  Benzophenone and oxtinoxate are considered very risky substances.[12]   

Most sunscreens are endocrine disruptors

Nine of the 15 chemical sunscreens are considered endocrine disruptors- chemicals that interfere with the normal function of hormones[13].  Endocrine disruptors that interfere with estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, and steroids contribute to cancer, diabetes, obesity, and infertility. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals have likely been the cause of increases in breast, prostate, and testicular cancer, diabetes, obesity, and decreased fertility over the last 50 years.  These chemicals are not proven to cause cancer but there is a higher risk of hormone related cancer in industrialized countries.  People who come from countries with lower cancer rates have a higher rate when they move to the United States.

In Great Britain, from 1978 to 2007, cancer increased by 32% in women. Breast cancer increased 57% in that time period.  In the US, childhood cancers increased almost 1% per year from 1975 to 2002. Many scientists believe this increase in cancer is due to bathing our bodies in toxic endocrine disruptors.

The 2009 Endocrine Society Scientific statement entails considerable evidence indicating that endocrine disruptors contribute to the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer and testicular cancer[14].  These cancers may well be due to endocrine disruptors, particular estrogen like substances.  

Endocrine disruptors are worse for developing children, hurting development of their brains and reproductive organs.  That’s why pregnant women, breast feeding women, and growing children should avoid them.  Endocrine disruptors interfere with intrauterine growth in boys and girls and hypospadias and cryptorchidism in boys, small testicles.  In girls, they cause premature puberty, polycystic ovary syndrome, and abnormal periods.  In adults, low sperm counts, testicular cancer, prostate growth and in girls, vaginal cancer, breast cancer, ovulation disorders, uterine fibroids, and difficult breastfeeding.  

Exposure to estrogens throughout a woman’s life, including the period of intrauterine development, is a risk factor for the development of breast cancer.  Benzophenones specifically have estrogen effects. [15][16]  The increased incidence of breast cancer noted during the last 50 years may be because of women’s exposure to estrogen-mimicking chemicals that have been released into the environment.

Octylmethoxycinnamateshas hormonal effects and interferes with fat and thyroid metabolism. [17][18]  This very common sunscreen causes many different types of hormonal problems in pregnant animals.[19]   Octyl methoxycinnamate and avobenzoneare actually toxic to cells [20]and many sunscreens cause allergic reactions when exposed to the sun.[21]  Octyl methoxycinnamate, oxybenzone, homosalate, octyl salicylate, padimate-o, andsulisobenzoneincrease penetration of toxic herbicidesthrough skin.[22]   And most sunscreens increase the penetration of pesticides.[23] A large number of animal and laboratory studies have shown numerous adverse effects including developmental and reproductive effects of UV-filters present in sunscreens and cosmetics. 

So here’s the bottom line.  Because chemical sunscreens get into the body, blood, and tissues and are not considered absolutely safe, I believe thatchemical sunscreens shouldn’t be used in children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.[24]Read labels and avoid sunscreens that list any active ingredients other than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.   And remember, you are safe with my DayThyme SPF20 skin protector...


[1]Nakajima D,Asada S,Kageyama S,Yamamoto T,Kuramochi H,Tanaka N,Takeda K,Goto S.  J UOEH.2006.  Activity related to the carcinogenicity of plastic additives in the benzophenone group. Jun 1;28(2):143-56.

[2]Schlecht C,Klammer H,Wuttke W,Jarry H.  Arch Toxicol.  2006. A dose-response study on the estrogenic activity of benzophenone-2 on various endpoints in the serum, pituitary and uterus of female rats.  Oct;80(10):656-61. Epub 2006 Apr 4.

[3]  Rhodes MC,Bucher JR,Peckham JC,Kissling GE,Hejtmancik MR,Chhabra RS. 2007. Carcinogenesis studies of benzophenone in rats and mice.  Food Chem Toxicol.May;45(5):843-51. Epub 2006 Nov 15.

[4]Acc Chem Res.2012 Sep 18;45(9):1558-70. Epub 2012 Jun 14.  Benzophenone photosensitized DNA damage.  Cuquerella MCLhiaubet-Vallet VCadet JMiranda MA.

[5]Toxicology.2013 Mar 8;305:41-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2012.12.021.  Epub 2013 Jan 14.  Benzophenone-1 stimulated the growth of BG-1 ovarian cancer cells by cell cycle regulation via an estrogen receptor alpha-mediated signaling pathway in cellular and xenograft mouse models.  Park MAHwang KALee HRYi BRJeung EBChoi KC.

[6]PLoS One.2013 Apr 4;8(4):e60567. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060567. Print 2013.  Estrogenic Potency of Benzophenone UV Filters in Breast Cancer Cells: Proliferative and Transcriptional Activity Substantiated by Docking Analysis.  Kerdivel GLe Guevel RHabauzit DBrion FAit-Aissa SPakdel F.

[7]Gasparro FP, Mitchnick M, Nash JF. A review of sunscreen safety and efficacy. Photochem Photobiol 1998; 68: 243–256

[8]Toxicol Sci.2005 Jul;86(1):61-7. Epub 2005 Apr 20. Promotion of thyroid carcinogenesis by para-aminobenzoic acid in rats initiated with N-bis(2-hydroxypropyl)nitrosamine.  Hasumura MImai TTakizawa TUeda MOnose JHirose M.

 [9]FEBS Lett.1993 Jun 21;324(3):309-13.  Sunlight-induced mutagenicity of a common sunscreen ingredient.  Knowland JMcKenzie EAMcHugh PJCridland NA.

 [10]Photochem Photobiol.1997 Aug;66(2):276-81. Characterization of DNA damage inflicted by free radicals from a mutagenic sunscreen ingredient and its location using an in vitro genetic reversion assay.  McHugh PJKnowland J.

 [11]Photochem Photobiol.2002 Feb;75(2):107-16.  Photophysical and photochemical studies of 2-phenylbenzimidazole and UVB sunscreen 2-phenylbenzimidazole-5-sulfonic acid.  Inbaraj JJBilski PChignell CF.

[12]Int J Androl.2012 Jun;35(3):424-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2605.2012.01280.x.  Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters.  Krause MKlit ABlomberg Jensen MSøeborg TFrederiksen HSchlumpf MLichtensteiger WSkakkebaek NEDrzewiecki KT.

[13]J Environ Public Health.2012;2012:713696. Epub 2012 Sep 6.  Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: associated disorders and mechanisms of action.  De Coster Svan Larebeke N.

[14]E. Diamanti-Kandarakis, J. P. Bourguignon, L. C. Giudice et al., “Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement,” Endocrine Reviews, vol. 30, no. 4, pp.293–342, 200

[16]Koda T,Umezu T,Kamata R,Morohoshi K,Ohta T,Morita M. 2005.  Uterotrophic effects of benzophenone derivatives and a p-hydroxybenzoate used in ultraviolet screens.  Environ Res.  May;98(1):40-5 

[17]Seidlova-Wuttke DChristoffel J,Rimoldi G,Jarry H,Wuttke W. 2006.  Comparison of effects of estradiol with those of octylmethoxycinnamate and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor on fat tissue, lipids and pituitary hormones.  Toxicol Appl Pharmacol.Jul 1;214(1):1-7. Epub 2005 Dec 20.

[18]Effects of pre- and postnatal exposure to the UV-filter octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) on the reproductive, auditory and neurological development of rat offspring.  Axelstad MBoberg JHougaard KSChristiansen SJacobsen PRMandrup KRNellemann CLund SPHass U.

[19] Toxicology.2004 Dec 1;205(1-2):113-22.  Endocrine activity and developmental toxicity of cosmetic UV filters--an update.Schlumpf M,Schmid P,Durrer S,Conscience M,Maerkel K,Henseler M,Gruetter M,Herzog I,Reolon S,Ceccatelli R,Faass O,Stutz E,Jarry H,Wuttke W,Lichtensteiger W.

[20]S.T. Butt and T. Christensen. 2000  Toxicity and Phototoxicity of Chemical Sun Filters Radiation Protection Dosimetry91:283-286.  Oxford University Press

[21]Skin Pharmacol Physiol.2005 Nov-Dec;18(6):253-62. Epub 2005 Aug 19. Sunscreens - which and what for?  Maier T,Korting HC

[22]Toxicol Appl Pharmacol.2004 Mar 15;195(3):348-54.  Active ingredients in sunscreens act as topical penetration enhancers for the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Pont AR,Charron AR,Brand RM.

[23]Toxicol Ind Health.2003 Feb;19(1):9-16.  Sunscreens containing physical UV blockers can increase transdermal absorption of pesticides.  Brand RM,Pike J,Wilson RM,Charron AR

[24]  Krause MKlit ABlomberg Jensen MSøeborg TFrederiksen HSchlumpf MLichtensteiger WSkakkebaek NEDrzewiecki KT.  Int J Androl.2012 Jun;35(3):424-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2605.2012.01280.x.  Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters.