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In case you haven’t been paying attention, May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and UV exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and actinic keratosis (known as AKs) is the most common precancer that affects more than 58M of us.
A new study published in JAMA on May 6th shows the chemicals found in sunscreen get absorbed into the bloodstream and has consumers and some physicians questioning the safety of SPF. Researchers looked at 4 ingredients; specifically Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene and Ecamsule. Many commonly used sunscreen formulations include some of these organic chemicals to effectively absorb UV radiation. In conclusion, the authors said this; “The systemic absorption of sunscreen ingredients supports the need for further studies to determine the clinical significance of these findings. These results do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen.”
So, what are the key takeaways from this study?
Dr. Darrell Rigel of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, a skin cancer expert and a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, is concerned that the study may be misleading to consumers and believes that it is crucial for everyone to understand the truth about skin cancer prevention and detection.
“We have always known that there is a very small amount of absorption of sunscreens in the bloodstream. But there is no data that this is a problem. Tens of millions of people use sunscreens in the U.S. every summer weekend for many years with no incidence. Daily use of a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 is the best way to protect yourself from skin cancer. For many people, the chemical formulations cited in the study are the only ones that feel cosmetically elegant enough to wear. Consumers should continue to use their preferred formulation if it means they will actually wear it,” said Dr. Rigel.
Understandably, many dermatologists share the concern about how this study may impact the way we use sunscreen this summer. “One study is not a good enough reason to stop using sunscreen. We know definitively what the risks are from exposure to UVA/UVB radiation are, but we really don’t know yet what risks chemical filters like Avobenzone and Oxybenzone may actually pose. These ingredients have been used for a very long time. For example, Avobenzone was first introduced in the 1990s,” said New York City dermatologist Judith Hellman. “My best advice to anyone who is concerned is to switch to a mineral sunscreen like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that reflect light from the skin instead of absorbing it like the ingredients in this study do.”
To find out what’s in your sunscreen, read the ingredients on the label. If you’re not sure what’s best for you, consult with a dermatologist for guidance. But whatever you do, don’t go out in the sun this summer without protection or you will surely regret it later.