After a study on sunscreens was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May, consumers became alarmed.
The clinical trial, led by Dr. David Strauss of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), looked at absorption levels of sunscreen active ingredients into the bloodstream. The study tracked 24 healthy people that applied sunscreen (in either lotion, cream or spray form) on their skin four times a day for four continuous days. At the end of the week, the study found that four common sunscreen chemicals– avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule–had all been absorbed into the bloodstream. Although this study was a maximum usage trial, which tests if active ingredients will penetrate the skin if applied at a maximum recommended level, the concentrations of the chemicals found in sunscreen exceeded those previously established by the FDA.
Immediately, the findings brought sunscreen safety into question. The FDA responded with a statement, noting that simply because an ingredient is absorbed into the body through the skin, does not mean it’s necessarily unsafe–though more testing is needed to make that determination. The statement concluded that in spite of the lack of information, while additional data is being collected, “the public should continue to use sunscreens with other sun-protective measures.”
Thankfully, beauty retailers can provide sunblock-wary clients with information and alternative solutions.
“Beauty store owners can play it safe by stocking mainly physical sun- screens–in other words, sunscreens with titanium or zinc oxide,” explains Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, MD, dermatologist. More commonly called mineral sunscreens, they are generally considered safe. Some experts believe the non-nanoparticle size, mineral-based sunscreens are the safest. “These do not have to be the thick pastes of lifeguard lore, but rather micronized versions which go on elegantly and blend well,” she says, advising to opt for lighter sunscreens that have proven-effective ingredients.
Board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Amanda Doyle, agrees, noting physical sunscreens absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays. She also suggests avoiding any sunblock with p-aminobenzoic acid and oxybenzone, which are “chemical blockers associated with an increased risk of allergic reactions.”
Though there isn’t one type of sunblock that Dr. Mariwalla steers clear of, she cautions against any with an organic label–which may indeed be more natural, but can indicate that the brand is unregulated. “I would actually stick to ‘big box’ brands because they have done the safety testing and have a lot to lose if they don’t comply with FDA standards,” she advises.
The Sum of Sun Safety
It's important to know that, to date, there's no conclusive scientific evidence that suggests any connection between sunscreen and cancer. In fact, Dr. Mariwalla says, “There has never been an ingredient found in sunscreen that has been linked to cancer. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of hysteria about it.” While the safety of the chemical absorption found
in the recent study is being explored further, you can make some sun safety suggestions to your customers in addition to mineral sunscreen recommendations. After all, excessive sun exposure actually can lead to skin cancer, a disease that is completely preventable. “If you’re outdoors a lot in the summer, then sunscreen is one way to reduce that risk. Practicing sun-safe behaviors like avoiding exposure between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., wearing an ultraviolet protection factor shirt, sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat are others–but I would not advise doing nothing,” Dr. Mariwalla stresses.
For added protection, Dr. Doyle recommends clients try ingestible skincare products containing natural tomato extract such as lycopene, which is rich in carotenoids. “It’s a complementary product that works well in combination with sunscreen. Recent studies have shown that using this type of ingestible skincare product shields us from UV-related changes in the skin (think redness and photo-aging) and inflammation,” she explains.
Bottom line? Stock up on reputable mineral sunscreen brands so that your customers can safely enjoy the sun!