Sunscreen Under Scrutiny!

Current news headlines are spreading claims that popular brands are utilizing harmful chemicals in their sunscreens. “I have received a lot of questions about the safety of sunscreens,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, a board-certified Dermatologist and skin cancer expert in Austin, Texas.”I think the public should definitely inquire and educate themselves about these issues, but please don’t stop protecting yourself from the sun.

Dr. Mamelak is a fellowship trained Mohs Micrographic Surgeon and treats patients with skin cancer at Sanova Dermatology and the Austin Mohs Surgery Center. He sees the preventative benefits of sun protection on a daily basis, as well as what happens when people stop covering up.

“We have overwhelming evidence that protecting the skin from the sun is one of the absolute best methods of preventing skin cancer development,” says Dr. Mamelak. “The biggest problem with these claims is they stop people from protecting themselves.

Skin Cancer is now the number one type of cancer that affects Americans, with the risk of developing skin cancer as high as one in five.

What’s The Situation?

Mother and Daughter at the PoolThe Environmental Working Group continues to claim that both oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, common ingredients found in many popular sunscreens, are doing more harm than good. The group states that oxybenzone has the ability to seep into the bloodstream and act as an estrogen within the body, potentially leading to hormonal imbalances and birth defects. “These claims are based on old medical studies where rats were fed 300x their body weight of oxybenzone,” explains Dr. Mamelak. This data has never been replicated in humans, and the Skin Cancer Foundation clains that a person would have to apply daily sunscreen for 277 years to get a dose similar to that used in these animal studies. Dr. Mamelak somewhat sarcastically advises his patient not to eat 300 tubes of sunscreen a day! “The only conclusive research shows that oxybenzone has the ability to absorb UV rays before they damage the skin, which in turn defends the skin against conditions like skin cancer,” states Dr. Mamelak.

There is also the claim that it is known for its ability to cause irritation to the skin. “Some ingredients in sunscreens can cause skin sensitivities,” Dr. Mamelak states. “Thankfully, there are a number of preparations on the market, many designed for individuals with sensitive skin.”

Retinyl palmitate is claimed to accelerate skin damage. This is based on a report examining this compound’s effect on albino mice, animals that are genetically susceptible to develop sun and skin damage at an accelerated rate. This report was never subjected to peer review, nor was it ever examined or scrutinized by other physicians or investigators in the scientific community. Subsequent studies on this compound found no proof that it has the capability of increasing the risk of skin cancer. “It would not be smart to write off this sunscreen ingredient without sufficient proof of its harm,” notes Dr. Mamelak. Quantifiable testing is extremely important when making large claims, especially about the ingredients of products that we use on a daily basis. That being said, that evidence is not existent at this point.

Other critics contend that Retinyl Palmitate is a derivative of vitamin A and can cause brittle nails and hair loss. These skin changes are consistent with ingesting excessive amounts of Vitamin A to the point of an overdose.  This has not been reported with topical applications.

Still further, some have pointed out that vitamin A containing products like Retinol and Retin-A should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women for the potential to cause damage on the fetus. “We do advise women not to use these creams,” says Dr. Mamelak. “There is good evidence that Retinol and Retinal products can have adverse effects. But to my knowledge, this has not been shown with other vitamin A products like retinyl palmitate.” Dr. Mamelak also points out that vitamin A is a common component of many prenatal vitamins.

What To Do Now

“It is a well known fact that the majority of the population does not use, or inaccurately uses, sunscreen,” notes Dr. Mamelak. “Not wearing sunscreen can lead to skin damage and the development of skin cancers.” Dr. Mamelak recommends applying sunscreen daily, and reapplying if outside for prolonged periods of time. If sweating or swimming, there may also be a need to apply more frequently.

So how do you pick the correct sunscreen? Make sure when picking a sunscreen that it offers “broad spectrum” coverage and carries a minimum SPF of 30. “SPF should be part of a complete sun protection strategy,” informs Dr. Mamelak. This guideline of sunscreen, along with other sun safe practices, should offer the sun protection that you need to appropriately guard your skin from dangerous UV rays.

Contact Us

Do you have questions about your sunscreen or sun safety? Are you at risk for basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer? Contact us to set up your skin cancer screening and stock up on sunscreen today!

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