Sun protection is absolutely necessary to prevent skin cancers. The question is how to do this safely. Sunscreen has always been the gold standard, but the past three years have produced studies revealing chemicals that are absorbed into the blood stream, sometimes lingering for weeks as well as the presence of chemicals known to be carcinogens at levels considered unsafe. Most recently, sunscreen manufacturers Coppertone, Neutrogena, and Aveeno recalled several of their products due to levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, being detected in amounts exceeding those considered safe by the FDA.
Over the past three years, there have been several sunscreen recalls:
- 2019: A study conducted by the FDA in summer 2019 found that some of the chemicals commonly found in sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream.
- 2020: A study completed in January again raised concerns as the chemicals absorbed into the body were found to linger for days, even weeks.
- 2021: Independent testing revealed that additional sunscreens (some Coppertone, Neutrogena, and Aveeno products were being sold with levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels more than three times those deemed safe by the FDA.
In 2016, the FDA established a rule that makers of over-the-counter sunscreens needed to prove the ingredients in their products are safe and effective. Companies were told they needed to provide data from a “maximal usage trial” to determine to what degree ingredients were absorbed into the blood – the same standard used by the FDA for all topically applied drugs. Research into the topic of sunscreen, the safety and effectiveness of ingredients has been ongoing for over a decade. Previously, ingredients like ecamsule and enzacamene were declined by the FDA for use in sunscreens because of the lack of data to support their safety and effectiveness against sun damage.
The studies from the past few years can bring into question whether it is safe to use sunscreens. The answer is yes, and it is necessary to protect against the negative effects of sun exposure. Authors of the various studies as well as medical providers overwhelmingly still recommend that people continue to use sunscreen to help prevent serious health issues like skin cancer and melanoma. You can read our previous post about the earlier studies, here.
While further information is uncovered, an alternative is to use mineral-based sunscreens with active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These products coat the skin and reflect the light rather than absorb the light like other chemicals. The link at the bottom of the page shares a few options.
Besides sunscreen, there are other methods to protect yourself from the damaging rays of the sun. Wearing lightweight UPF (ultraviolet protective factor) clothing that is long-sleeved or full-length is a second level of protection for your skin. Hats, sunglasses, and of course seeking out the shade when you can, are all important factors to include in protecting yourself against sun damage. Don’t forget to hydrate too– as sun exposure can quickly lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, especially during the blazing summers of the Southwest.
Headlines always grab our attention. There’s no question more information is required to understand the effects the active ingredients in some sunscreens have on our bodies. And while concerning, it shouldn’t deter us from doing whatever is needed to stop the known effects of skin exposure to sun- skin cancer. While more research is clearly necessary to determine safety, eliminating sunscreen all together isn’t the answer. Using sunscreen options that remain on the skin’s surface (mineral based options) and adding other layers of protection are reasonable alternative until the data is in.
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