Toxic sun­screen or skin cancer?

Al­ter­na­tive block­ers use nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents to keep skin safe

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Cindy Krischer Good­man

If you’ve been us­ing sun­screen to pro­tect your skin, here’s a new worry for you: The sun­screen might hurt you, too. The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion has asked for ad­di­tional test­ing of pop­u­lar sun­screens to learn whether some of the main chem­i­cals in them can seep into the blood­stream at lev­els high enough to be toxic.

A small study found that high lev­els of com­mon sun­screen in­gre­di­ents can en­ter a per­son’s blood­stream af­ter just one day of use. The four chem­i­cals tested — avoben­zone, oxy­ben­zone, ecam­sule and oc­tocry­lene — re­mained in the blood­stream for at least 24 hours af­ter the last sun­screen ap­pli­ca­tion, and some showed up even af­ter a week.

The FDA now wants a larger study done that would look at 12 ac­tive sun­screen in­gre­di­ents, the level at they are ab­sorbed into the body, and what the health ef­fects might be. Your con­ven­tional sun­screen may be a prob­lem if it has mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal in­gre­di­ents typ­i­cal in brands that

spread easy or spray on like Cop­per­tone, Banana Boat and Hawai­ian Tropic.

But don’t worry, South Florida. You have op­tions. The bet­ter choice for now is sun­screens, known as block­ers, that con­tain only mineral in­gre­di­ents such as ti­ta­nium diox­ide or zinc ox­ide.

“The FDA says we need to know more about the safety of chem­i­cal sun­screens, but no one is say­ing we shouldn’t use sun­screens,” cau­tions Dr. Len Licht­en­feld, act­ing med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety.

An ‘epi­demic’ of skin cancer

New ques­tions about sun­screen safety come as South Florida der­ma­tol­o­gists say they are in­un­dated with pa­tients with skin can­cers, much of it in peo­ple who had sun ex­po­sure for decades with­out any sun pro­tec­tion.

“We are fac­ing and fighting a skin cancer epi­demic,” said Jef­frey S. Fro­mowitz, a der­ma­tol­o­gist in Boca Ra­ton. “This could lead peo­ple to the con­clu­sion to stop wear­ing sun­screen, but un­til we know more, what we know for cer­tain is there is a cor­re­la­tion be­tween sun ex­po­sure and skin cancer.”

Florida has a higher in­ci­dence of skin cancer than any other state, and the Skin Cancer Foun­da­tion es­ti­mates that more than 8,300 Florid­i­ans will be di­ag­nosed this year with melanoma, one of the most dan­ger­ous forms of skin cancer.

Fro­mowitz said lo­cal der­ma­tol­o­gists have spent re­cent decades try­ing to change peo­ple’s be­hav­iors to make sun pro­tec­tion part of daily rou­tines. “We’ve seen the re­sults of not wear­ing it in our daily prac­tices,” he said. “Ev­ery day we are treat­ing peo­ple with the ef­fects of decades of UV ex­po­sure.”

In re­cent years for­mu­la­tion ad­vances have led to more sun­screens made with ac­tive chem­i­cal in­gre­di­ents in higher con­cen­tra­tions tout­ing wa­ter-re­sis­tance and high lev­els of sun pro­tec­tion. As these prod­ucts hit the shelves, the FDA re­lied on man­u­fac­tur­ers of chem­i­cal sun­screens to do their own safety test­ing.

The FDA says when man­u­fac­tur­ers failed to do their own tests, it con­ducted its own safety study. The pi­lot study included 24 in­di­vid­u­als who used sprays, lo­tions and cream sun­screen for­mu­las and reap­plied four times a day for four days. The re­sults found all of the ac­tive in­gre­di­ents in the sun­screens were ab­sorbed in lev­els higher than 0.5 ml, the tox­i­c­ity the FDA con­sid­ers safe be­fore fur­ther study is needed.

The FDA says it is not clear whether the higher lev­els in­crease the risk for cancer and birth de­fects or have other ad­verse ef­fects. In previous stud­ies, the chem­i­cal in sun­screens — oxy­ben­zone — has been linked to birth de­fects dur­ing the first trimester of preg­nancy as well as hor­mone changes in men. Now, the FDA is ask­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ers for a more com­pre­hen­sive study of chem­i­cal ab­sorp­tion to un­der­stand the risks and ben­e­fits.

In­de­pen­dently, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Work­ing Group, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to pro­tect­ing hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment, did its own sun­screen tests. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 2019 Guide to Sun­screens, set to be re­leased May 22, has found that more then 60 per­cent of the 1,300 sun­screens it tested did not of­fer ad­e­quate sun pro­tec­tion or con­tained po­ten­tially harm­ful chem­i­cals.

For­tu­nately, sun­screens made with mineral in­gre­di­ents are be­ing im­proved upon and sit­ting on the shelf next to chem­i­cal filled choices. Big brands such as Neu­tro­gena, Aveeno and Sun Bum have de­vel­oped mineral based prod­ucts. A con­cern has been that these mineral sun­screens may some­times be less ef­fec­tive than their chem­i­cal coun­ter­parts be­cause they can be eas­ier to rub off. They also have been known to leave a whiteish cast on the skin.

Hol­ly­wood der­ma­tol­o­gist Todd Mi­nars said der­ma­tol­o­gists al­ways have pre­ferred these mineral sun­screens for their broad spec­trum cov­er­age. Orig­i­nally, their pasty con­sis­tency turned off wear­ers and led to the in­tro­duc­tion of chem­i­cal sun­screens. But that has changed, he said. “New for­mu­las of phys­i­cal sun­screens are pretty in­vis­i­ble and go on nicely,” he said. Mi­nars said that with daily sun ex­po­sure, most peo­ple will have one or two less in­va­sive skin can­cers by the time they reach 80, which is why daily sun­screen use is crit­i­cal in Florida.

Fro­mowitz agrees and says that un­til more re­search is com­pleted, these mineral sun­screens are a good option — along with don­ning a wide-rim hat, sun­glasses, wear­ing sun­pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and stay­ing in­doors dur­ing peak sun hours.

“Be aware of the ques­tions raised, but you should not aban­don sun­screen,” said Dr. Licht­en­feld of the Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety. “The risk of burn­ing and tan­ning is sub­stan­tial and can be cu­mu­la­tive over time.”

MIKE STOCKER/SUN SEN­TINEL

JOE RAEDLE/SUN SEN­TINEL FILE

Top: Mark and Teri Sokol from up­state New York bask in the sun Wed­nes­day next to the pier on Deer­field Beach. The cou­ple said they ap­ply sun­screen to try and pro­tect them­selves from the sun, but it doesn’t al­ways work. Above: Sharon Doyle puts sun­screen on the face of 9-year-old Sa­van­nah Stid­ham as they visit the beach in Fort Lauderdale.

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