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Chemical Sunscreens Help Prevent Skin Cancer, But What Else Do They Do To A Body?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - As we move into the outdoor season, a new study is raising concerns over the safety of the most common ingredients in sunscreens.

Turns out some of the ingredients are absorbed into the bloodstream, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're dangerous, reports CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez.

The FDA will require manufacturers to do more research to show that some of the chemicals in sunscreens are not harmful when absorbed into the body.

We've been told for years now that applying sunscreen early, liberally and often, is our best protection against cancer-causing UV rays from the sun.

Bob Littlefield is proof positive of what happens when you don't. The skin cancer patient grew up on the beach in the days before sunscreen.

"Two different melanomas, over nine squamous cell cancers," Littlefield said.

The most common and popular sunscreens on the market are called chemical sunscreens because they rely on compounds that are absorbed by the skin to form a UV barrier.

But now an FDA study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that some of those chemicals are also absorbed into the bloodstream at levels the FDA says requires proof that they cannot do harm.

But the chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at the Mount Sinai Health System says that's not the same as saying these ingredients are harmful.

"It might be necessary to do further studies to look into the higher levels to see if they are associated with any toxicologic systemic effect," said Dr. Hooman Khorasani of Mount Sinai.

MORE: How To Best Protect Your Baby From The Sun This Summer

The good news is that there are good alternatives to the chemical sunscreens: so-called physical or mineral sunscreens use zinc and titanium to block UV rays, but they can leave the skin looking slightly whitewashed.

Still most dermatologists agree with the Skin Cancer foundation's response to the study:

"The sunscreen ingredients currently FDA-approved have been used in the U.S. for many years, and there is no evidence that these ingredients are harmful to humans. There is, however, substantial evidence showing that sunscreen helps reduce skin cancer risk, as well as skin aging."

Khorasani also pointed out that the study was small, just 24 volunteers who spread sunscreen over 75 percent of their body, four times a day for four days. This test was done indoors without sunlight, heat, sweat and all the other variables that could have altered the results.

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