All Major Sunscreen Ingredients Absorbed Through The Skin

Comments from the FDA on this JAMA Dermatology study:

Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial 

Sunscreen CDC Phil What is the background for this study?

Response: A prior pilot study published in JAMA in May 2019 demonstrated the systemic absorption of 4 sunscreen active ingredients; additional studies are needed to determine the systemic absorption of additional active ingredients, and how quickly absorption occurs.  This study assessed the systemic absorption of the 6 active ingredients (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate) in 4 sunscreen products under single and maximal-use conditions. What are the main findings? Did the absorption rate/amount vary by age/skin color/ambient temperature/sunscreen vehicle (spray/gel/ointment) etc?

Response: Maximum plasma concentrations of all 6 active ingredients were greater than 0.5 ng/mL, and this threshold was surpassed on day 1 after a single application for all active ingredients. An additional finding was that once absorbed, these active ingredients can remain in the body for extended periods of time. The study was not designed to assess the absorption difference by age, skin type, temperature or sunscreen formulation. What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: Sunscreen active ingredients are systemically absorbed, which supports the need for additional studies to determine the clinical significance of these findings. However, these findings do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: The two studies published in JAMA support an FDA proposed rule, issued in February of 2019, aimed at bringing over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreens up to date with the latest scientific standards. It’s a high priority for the FDA and we continue to work toward establishing final marketing requirements for sunscreens. As part of this rule, the FDA has asked industry and other interested parties for additional safety data on 12 active sunscreen ingredients currently available in marketed products. While both of these studies make a great start, additional data are needed for each of these 12 active sunscreen ingredients in order to fully understand their absorption into the body as well as the long-term effects of absorption. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The findings in these studies do not mean that the FDA has concluded that any of the ingredients tested are unsafe for use in sunscreens. The agency’s proposed rule requested additional safety studies to fill in the current data gaps for these ingredients. Of note, the rule also proposed that two active ingredients (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) are generally recognized as safe and effective for use in sunscreens, and additional data was not requested for them.

Given the recognized public health benefits of sunscreen use, the FDA strongly advises all Americans to continue to use sunscreens in conjunction with other sun protective measures (such as protective clothing) as this important rulemaking effort moves forward. Broad Spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of at least 15 are only one element of a skin-cancer prevention strategy that should also include other sun protective behaviors such as wearing protective clothing that adequately covers the arms, torso, and legs; wearing sunglasses and a hat that provides adequate shade to the whole head; and seeking shade whenever possible during periods of peak sunlight.


Matta MK, Florian J, Zusterzeel R, et al. Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active IngredientsA Randomized Clinical TrialJAMA. 2020;323(3):256–267. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.20747


Last Modified: Jan 22, 2020 @ 4:39 pm




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