Preventative Tips, Wellbeing, Sun Safety

How safe is your sunscreen?

Do all sunscreens protect you from skin cancers?

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Team MoleMap Creator
Posted 14/02/20
Choose Mineral Sunscreens

Above: is your sunscreen safe?

Recently the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) dropped a bit of a bombshell after testing revealed that six of the most common UV filters in chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the body in substantial amounts, and can stay there for days, a fact that wasn't well-known before.

The testing showed that these six common active ingredients are absorbed into the body and may linger for days or even weeks, in some cases1. They also found that just a single application of chemical sunscreen ― whether as a lotion or a spray ― increases the blood levels of these active ingredients beyond the FDA's threshold for determining if they need more study to be considered safe for use.

Previous research has shown that some of the ingredients in the FDA study can disrupt hormones and may lead to fertility problems, poor birth outcomes for babies, and perhaps cancer.

However, the study has been controversial to date, as sunscreen manufacturers are claiming that the concentrations used in the initial study were far higher than in typical sunscreen use. What’s more, sunscreen manufacturers are as yet to undertake further studies which may or may not refute the research.

How chemical sunscreen escaped testing until now

The FDA has allowed sunscreen makers to sell their products under an assumption that the active ingredients they use are 'GRASE’, or generally recognised as safe and effective.

However, several decades ago, the FDA began requiring manufacturers to do more safety testing of their products if they could be absorbed into the body at levels above 0.5 nanograms per millilitre. Below that level, there's thought to be minimal risk that an ingredient or drug could cause harm. However, for various reasons, sunscreens essentially slipped the FDA's surveillance system without any real safety testing. Which is why, recently, the FDA’s research division decided to take on the question of body absorption of sunscreen ingredients.

Is Your Sunscreen Safe

Above: there are no health concerns associated with mineral sunscreens (or blockers) at this stage. The use of chemical sunscreens is not recommended until further testing has been carried out.

What do the results mean for you?

The FDA says that while the UV filters in chemical sunscreens can't be considered safe, that doesn't mean they're unsafe at the concentration absorbed through sunscreen use - scientists simply don't know until further studies are completed. Fortunately, there are two main types of sunscreen:

1. Mineral sunscreens (blockers) – these contain minerals such as zinc, which physically block UV rays. There is no evidence of any health concerns with mineral sunscreens.

2. Chemical sunscreens – these work by absorbing UV rays. It is the chemical absorbers which are controversial and the subject of the FDA research.

Limit Your Sun Exposure And Use Sunscreen

Above: Limit your sun exposure and always use sunscreen

Our recommendations: a cautionary approach

On the bright side, sunscreens are only one part of sun protection. In light of the current evidence published by FDA researchers - and the lack of research evidence from the sunscreen manufacturers to refute the potential dangers of chemical absorbers - we recommend taking a cautionary approach, including:

  1. Don’t stop using sunscreen! Remember that the sun is a known and proven dangerous carcinogen – potentially far more dangerous than sunscreen. So until more comprehensive research is carried out - it’s still preferable to use a chemical sunscreen than no sunscreen.
  2. Choose mineral sunscreens instead. Whenever possible, use mineral sunscreens (blockers) rather than chemical products, especially for children. Look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide – preferably both, as the combination provides broad spectrum coverage (and the FDA says both of these ingredients are safe1).
  3. Limit your sun exposure - Avoid the sun as much as possible between 10am and 4pm when UV radiation is at its peak (or any time when the UV index is 4 or above) – especially during the daylight savings months. Download an UV app such as UV2day so you can check daily.
  4. Cover up: wear clothing with a high UPF (unique protection factor) rating – i.e. fabrics that have a tight weave or are labelled as high UPF. As much as possible, wear long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from harmful UV rays.
  5. Head for the shade. The best sunblock of all is complete shade, so head for cover as much as possible. If you’re at the beach or pool, find a covered spot or shady tree or take an umbrella (they can protect you from rays as well as rain). Try to schedule outdoor activities at times of the day when there’s more shade – ideally in the early morning or late afternoon/evening.
  6. Avoid baking in the sun. A suntan is actually sun damage, so try to avoid sunbathing – and if you must catch some rays, use a mineral sunscreen and try to avoid getting sunburnt (which is one of the risk factors for melanoma and other skin cancers).

Want to know more? Check out the full article here. And if you’re concerned about chemical sunscreens or your sun exposure, talk to our friendly team on 0800 665 362 or book an annual skin check-up with MoleMap.

Source: 1. FDA Sunscreen Report Raises Concern Over Chemicals, Jan 2020

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