I have received many phone calls and emails about the recent sunscreen report from the EWG (Environmental Working Group) that can be found at this link. Are sunscreens safe? Here are a few summary points to explain my views until I can sit down and write an entire newsletter with details:
Issue 1- EWG states that Vitamin A containing sunscreens should be avoided.
Facts: Vitamin A derivatives (also known as retinoids) include retinol, retinoic acid (Retin- A) and esters such as retinyl palmitate. Most retinoids break down and degrade upon sun exposure so they should not be used in the daytime. They should be applied at night. One form of retinoid called retinyl palmitate (RP) is found in many cosmetic products and sunscreens. I am not a fan of RP because it is not as effective at treating wrinkles as retinol is. I believe this is because it does not penetrate into the skin as well as retinol does. In 2005, a study suggested that RP could- upon sun exposure- be broken down into a compound that could lead to cell DNA damage. This is the study that EWG is referring to. Retinol does not degrade into this harmful compound upon sun exposure, nor does retinoic acid.
Bottom line- Avoid sunscreens with Retinyl palmitate. Those with retinol are safe but a waste of money because the retinol is rapidly broken down upon sun exposure. Use products with retinol at night instead.
Issue 2- EWG states that oxybenzone is, “a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream. Biomonitoring surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected oxybenzone in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans tested.”
Facts: Oxybenzone and several other chemicals in sunscreen have been found in urine which means they are absorbed thru the skin into the blood stream. This has been known for years but there are no scientifically valid reports or studies that have shown that this is dangerous. Oxybenzone has been vilified because it may have estrogenic activity. Chemicals with estrogenic activity are thought to play a role in breast cancer development. Oxybenzone is thought to cause skin allergies in some people, but not all studies support this.
Bottom Line: If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have an increased risk of breast cancer, or want to be extra cautious about chemicals, avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone. An alternative that will not be absorbed into the body are sunscreens with zinc oxide such as Blue Lizard for sensitive skin.
Issue 3: Sunscreens do not protect as well as we think.
Facts: No sunscreen covers 100% of the sun’s rays. Most people apply ¼ the amount of necessary sunscreen to achieve the SPF on the label.
Bottom Line: Wear at least 2 different types of sunscreen and sun protective clothing if possible. Stand in the shade and under an umbrella if you can.
Please come to the forum section under “general topics” and discuss your thoughts.
Leslie Baumann MD