Sunscreens Cause Skin Cancer? What?!

Just what you needed: another mixed message about your health. The top health story this Memorial Weekend was sunscreens might cause skin cancer.

The story originated from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization that “protect(s) the most vulnerable… from health problems attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants.”

EWG announced their list of best and worst sunscreens last week. They also published a statement that claims creams which contain a vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, increase the risk of skin cancer in laboratory mice. The creams studied were not sunscreens, but rather simple cream with retinyl palmitate. Because many sunscreens contain retinyl palmitate, the EWG is urging the FDA to study this further and is also urging people to avoid sunscreens with vitamin A derivatives in the meantime. Some sunscreens contain retinyl or retinols as a “wrinkle-fighting” ingredient in the sunscreen.

So what should you do? Here are my tips:

  • Ultraviolet light from the sun is radiation and is unquestionably the most important cause of skin cancer.
  • Sunscreens in general do not cause skin cancer.
  • No study has yet looked at retinyl palmitate when used in a sunscreen.
  • It is reasonable to avoid sunscreens that contain retinyl or other vitamin A derivatives until more studies are done, if you’re concerned.
  • Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30. Look for zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule (Mexoryl) or octocrylene.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.

Photo: James Justin (flickr)

What is your take on sunscreen safety?

What about sunscreens and vitamin D?