If you’re like most people, you usually don’t step out into the blazing-hot sun unless you’ve slapped on a good amount of spray or lotion to ward off the cancer-causing UV rays that bombard us when we go outside. And for many among us, this isn’t simply a case of slathering on sunscreen when we head to the beach or to an outdoor all-day picnic—no, we need the stuff daily for our day at work, school, or simple outdoor recreation.
But according to new research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the chemicals in our sunscreen don’t merely sit on top of our skin until we rinse it off. Instead, many of the active ingredients enter our bloodstream at levels far in excess of what was previously believed.
A report published Monday in peer-reviewed journal JAMA found that after applying spray, lotion and cream, there is a “systemic absorption of sunscreen active ingredients” well beyond the FDA’s recommended limits. And while it remains unclear what the effect of this seepage into our bloodstream is, the data supports a need for further FDA investigation to determine exactly what the health impact of these findings are.
Theresa Michele, director of the FDA division of nonsprescription drug products and a coauthor of the study, told Wired:
“Everyone had always thought that because these are intended to work on the surface of the skin that they wouldn’t be absorbed, but they are.”
The data reveals how in our ongoing fight against skin cancer—the most common malignancy in the U.S. which affects an estimated 3.3 million people per year—we have applied vast amounts of sunscreen, considered an over-the-counter medication in the U.S., without having tested what the health impact could be.
In a release about the study, JAMA Dermatology editor-in-chief Kanade Shinkai and former FDA Chairman Robert Califf noted:
“Sunscreens have not been subjected to standard drug safety testing, and clinicians and consumers lack data on systemic drug levels despite decades of widespread use. Furthermore, appropriately designed trials have not yet been conducted to understand the optimal sunscreen dose needed to achieve a balance of risk and benefit when used to prevent skin cancer and melanoma.”
Researchers looked into the concentration of four active ingredients in 24 participants’ bloodstreams, including avobenzone, ecamsule, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. Participants were told to apply one of four different types of sunscreen—spray, lotion, or cream—four times per day for four days on exposed skin that was uncovered by a swimsuit, as per recommended usage.
Oxybenzone, in particular, reached the plasma concentration threshold a mere two hours after a single application and exceeded 20 ng/mL by the seventh day of the study. What makes this alarming is that the lingering presence of the sun-filtering molecules in the bloodstream remains a mystery in terms of what—if anything—this means for our bodies.
Continuing, Shinkai and Califf explained:
“The study findings raise many important questions about sunscreen and the process by which the sunscreen industry, clinicians, specialty organizations, and regulatory agencies evaluate the benefits and risks of this topical OTC medication. First and foremost, it is essential to determine whether systemic absorption of sunscreen poses risks to human health. Second, the effects of different sunscreen formulations, clinical characteristics (ie, skin type, age, presence of skin diseases that disrupt the skin barrier), physical activity level, and exposure to sun and water on systemic sunscreen levels require further study. “
U.S. sunscreen brands will now have to submit additional data regarding bloodstream absorption to the FDA. If the data shows that sunscreen doesn’t absorb beyond the toxicological threshold, makers won’t have any problem. But in case they do go beyond recommended limits, regulators will want to see what the potential risk is in terms of cancer, harm to the reproductive and endocrine systems, and other possible hazards.
In the meantime experts note that, despite this new research, the beneficial effects of sunscreen far outweigh the deadly risk of skin cancer. If the research gives you pause, however, a wide array of natural mineral based sunscreens are currently on the market, and recipes for homemade natural alternatives can be found online. Protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses can also be used to minimize exposure to carcinogenic rays and, while we should be cautious about which sunscreens to use, the new rules won’t be finalized until November.
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.