No evidence that chemical sunscreens are harmful or contain endocrine disruptors

By: Annet Preethi Furtado
February 23 2024

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No evidence that chemical sunscreens are harmful or contain endocrine disruptors

Screenshot of a TikTok video claiming chemical sunscreens act as endocrine disruptors. (Source: TikTok/Screenshot/Modified by Logically Facts)


The Verdict Misleading

Sunscreens prevent aging, and there is no conclusive scientific evidence that they possess any endocrine-disrupting properties.

Claim ID ec3bc685

A TikTok video featuring neuroscientist Robert Love and pharmacist Ben Fuchs recently went viral, raising concerns about using sunscreen and its purported effects on skin aging. The video, underpinned by a text overlay that reads, "AVOID These Sunscreens, As They May Age Your Skin," has sparked a debate on the safety and efficacy of chemical sunscreens.

Sunscreens come in two main types: mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreens, which use ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, create a physical barrier on the skin to reflect ultraviolet (UV) rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb into the skin and neutralize UV radiation. 

The video (archived here) highlights Fuchs and Love's discussion on the 'potential harms' of chemical sunscreens. Love queries Fuchs about avoiding certain sunscreens and their potential dangers. To this, Fuchs replies: “If you're gonna wear a sun-protected product, stay away from sunscreens because chemical sunscreens are toxic ingredients. Not only are they toxic, but they’re regulated as drugs. If you were to ingest one orally, you got to have your stomach pumped, or you would die. But even worse, they break down in the presence of the sun (sic).”

Fuchs advocates for physical sunscreens, such as those containing zinc oxide, praising their sun protection and healing properties. The conversation also covers concerns about chemical sunscreens disrupting the body's hormonal balance.

Screenshot of the viral TikTok video. (Source: TikTok/Screenshot/ Modified by Logically Facts)

Despite the video's popularity, garnering around 6.8 million likes and 12.6 million comments, several of its claims are misleading or inaccurate.

What are the claims?

Do sunscreens cause skin aging? 

In the video, Love suggests avoiding chemical sunscreen, claiming that "it is aging your skin." However, this claim is entirely false. Dermatologists and skincare experts strongly recommend sunscreen to protect against UV radiation, which speeds up skin aging and raises the risk of cancer. 

Moreover, numerous studies support this recommendation. For example, a December 2020 study in the United States National Library of Medicine, titled "The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer," explored the impact of sunscreen on skin health. It cited observational studies, a notable randomized controlled trial (RCT), and smaller experiments, all indicating sunscreen's effectiveness in preventing photoaging and skin cancer.

The studies showed sunscreens reduce ultraviolet-induced photoaging, including wrinkles, telangiectasia (tiny blood vessels that cause threadlike red lines or patterns on the skin), and pigmentary alterations.

In 2020, another study titled "Advances and controversies in studying sunscreen delivery and toxicity," published on ScienceDirect, an online platform for scientific and medical research articles, highlighted a decrease in skin cancer rates among young adults, citing the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The study attributed this development to the early adoption of sun-smart policies like sunscreen application and underscored the critical importance of optimizing sunscreen delivery to the skin surface for mitigating sunburn and lowering the risk of future skin cancer.

Dr. Smriti Naswa Singh, Consultant Dermatologist & Cosmetic Dermatologist, Fortis Hospital, told Logically Facts that "sunscreens prevent photoaging; they do not cause aging."

Dr. Aanchal Panth, a dermatologist at Dermafollix Hair Transplant and Skin Clinic, Surat, Gujarat, also told Logically Facts, "There is no scientific evidence that sunscreens of any kind can age the skin."

Are sunscreens toxic?

In the video, Fuchs, while talking about sunscreens, says, "Not only are they toxic, but they're regulated as drugs. If you were to ingest one orally, you got to have your stomach pumped, or you would die. But even worse, they break down in the presence of the sun (sic).''

However, sunscreen regulation and safety standards vary globally. While countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S. classify sunscreens as drugs, others such as Japan, South Africa, and Taiwan regulate them as cosmetics. 

In nations where sunscreens are deemed drugs, stringent measures are in place to ensure their safety and efficacy. For instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorously oversees regulation to uphold established standards.

Fuchs also raises concerns about the potential harm of ingesting sunscreens, suggesting dire consequences such as the need for stomach pumping or even fatality. While it is true that ingesting large quantities of sunscreen, particularly those containing chemical filters, can pose risks due to the concentration of active ingredients, such occurrences are exceedingly rare. 

Furthermore, it's crucial to highlight that sunscreens are intended for external use only, and ingestion is strongly discouraged, as emphasized by the FDA, which cautions against ingestion or contact with the eyes.

In discussing sunscreen’s functionality, Fuchs mentions that it breaks down under sunlight, implying this is a cause for concern. However, Dr. Singh told Logically Facts that the breakdown of chemical sunscreens in sunlight has not been proven to be harmful. 

Can sunscreens cause hormonal disruption?

In the latter half of the video, Love asks: "Now, what are chemical sunscreens? Why are those dangerous to our hormones?" Fuchs responds by claiming that chemical sunscreens function similarly to estrogen, acting as endocrine disruptors by mimicking the female hormone estrogen.

The endocrine system includes glands like the pituitary and thyroid, which produce hormones regulating functions like sleep, metabolism, and reproduction. "Endocrine disruptors" are synthetic chemicals that can interfere with this system, possibly causing hormone-related health problems.

The video does not explicitly identify which specific chemicals present in chemical sunscreens purportedly pose risks to hormones. 

However, chemical sunscreens typically contain various active ingredients. Some studies claim that certain organic UV filters like oxybenzone (also known as benzophenone-3) and other ingredients such as phthalates, which may also be present in sunscreens, are suspected to act as endocrine disruptors. However, these claims lack support from empirical scientific evidence.

In March 2021, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) lowered the permitted oxybenzone levels in body sunscreens from 6 percent to 2.2 percent. However, it considered evidence regarding its endocrine-disrupting properties inconclusive or equivocal.

Dr. Singh told Logically Facts, "There is very low-grade evidence for oxybenzone as an endocrine disruptor." 

Dr. Kunal Kumar Paul, a consultant at AIIMS Kalyani, told us, ''Typical UV filters like benzophenones, camphor derivatives, and cinnamate derivatives possess potential as endocrine disruptors, particularly impacting the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal system. Despite their capacity for inducing various endocrine disruptions, studies suggest that the minimal doses of sunscreen utilized mitigate the risk of hormone disruption.''

Dr. Panth said, "Studies have demonstrated that certain UV filters are excreted in urine. UV filters like Oxybenzone and OMC can be avoided during pregnancy, but, in healthy individuals, it should not cause any problems."

Sunscreen is heavily recommended

The recommendations from regulatory and professional bodies, such as the FDA and the American Academy of Dermatology (AADA), underscore the importance of using sunscreens for skin protection. The FDA advises applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, even on cloudy days, while covering all exposed skin areas. 

Similarly, the AAD recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and water resistance, emphasizing its benefits in reducing the risk of skin cancer and signs of premature aging. Additionally, AAD addresses common questions about sunscreen safety on its website, clarifying the FDA's rigorous standards for over-the-counter sunscreen products and affirming that no sunscreen ingredients available in the U.S. are harmful to human health based on current scientific evidence.

The verdict

Sunscreen remains a critical tool for skin protection against UV radiation. Leading health organizations, including the FDA and the American Academy of Dermatology, advocate for its use to reduce the risk of skin cancer and prevent premature aging. The claims presented in the video have been deemed misleading, underscoring the importance of relying on scientific evidence and expert guidance in health-related discussions.

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