Sunscreen Ingredients, Are They Safe?
Is sunscreen safe? That’s a great question. A recent article on this site updated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for over the counter (OTC) sunscreens. I suggest that you review this well-crafted piece along with my additional thoughts here on this critically important subject. I have written many articles about sunscreen and like most things it is an ever-evolving subject that requires updates and further review.
What was safe is now…?
I grew up when it seemed like everyone smoked, there were no car seats for children, and were fewer safety regulations. Many practices that we considered “safe” are now deemed dangerous and even illegal. Much of these changes have come as a result of longitudinal scientific research studies that required time to accomplish. Society would have a problem. The business community (or other industries) would find a solution. The scientific/medical/governmental communities would research both the problem and the solution and make recommendations and changes, if deemed necessary.
Skin protection is the goal
This checks and balances system seems to be at work with regard to sunscreen. Let me first state that I recommend sunscreen. As a melanoma survivor, I wear it. But my question is whether or not the solution (some types of sunscreen) are worse than the problem (skin damage). It is important to ask this question to get to the heart of the matter. Safe, skin care is the goal.
To this end, I did a little research of my own and landed on a Consumer Reports article about some of the chemicals commonly used in OTC sunscreen formulas. According to the piece, the American Academy of Dermatology has stated that sunscreen is safe, but that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has particular concerns about sunscreens containing oxybenzone. A new report states there may be risks to developing fetuses when pregnant women are exposed to oxybenzone” and that it’s best not to use sunscreens with this chemical on children. Confusing?
According to Dr. Henry Lim, a dermatologist at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and immediate past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, much of the concern is related to the effects of chemical absorption into the skin when applying sunscreen year-round, on a daily basis. Are chemicals like oxybenzone safe in small amounts applied on occasion? Are they more dangerous in larger amounts when applied more often? This seems to be at the heart of debate.
Problems with oxybenzone?
As noted, the FDA is continuing to monitor the active ingredients in OTC sunscreens with particular interest in oxybenzone, which is in wide use because it effectively protects against UVA and UVB rays. In some studies, researchers found that the chemical absorbs into the skin more readily than was previously thought. Testing on animals have led to concerns that oxybenzone could “interfere with the normal function of a number or hormones, including estrogen.1”
A recent paper published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology warns that pregnant women who all sunscreen with oxybenzone every day “might absorb enough of the chemical to increase the risk of a birth defect called Hirschsprug’s disease.1” The AAP also advises parents to avoid using sunscreens with this chemical as “studies in laboratory animals and other laboratory studies show that this chemical can mimic the actions of hormones that naturally occur in the human body. This is called endocrine disruption.1”
According to the FDA, there is current evidence to conclude that mineral-based sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide do not warrant the same concerns as those containing oxybenzone because they are not readily absorbed and sit on top of the skin. Dr. Lim notes that these deflect the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them and are not as efficient filters as other chemical-based sunscreens.
In the end, Dr. Lim, the AAP, the AAD and even the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommend that women and children use sunscreen. Despite its concerns about oxybenzone, the AAP stresses that using some form of sunscreen is better than going completely unprotected. And that is where I land on this today. Use it.
Have you taken our Beyond the Cancer Diagnosis Survey?