Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Sunscreen Myths – Beware of Things You Read and Hear July 2, 2012

Filed under: sun protection — askanesthetician @ 5:00 am
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A few weeks ago as a patient was leaving our office she turned to tell me and the doctor I work for that Dr. Oz had recommended on his TV show that you go outside without sunscreen on for 15 minutes in order to get enough Vitamin D.  Both the doctor I work for and myself told her that we did not agree with Dr. Oz’s recommendation.  We explained that by going outside, even for 15 minutes, without sunscreen you still get too much sun exposure and expose yourself to the risk of skin cancer.  The stakes were simply too high to follow that recommendation.  If you aren’t getting enough Vitamin D take a supplement instead of going out into the sun unprotected.

Of course being the sunscreen fanatic that I am along with the fact that I see it as a personal responsibility to warn people about the dangers of skin cancer, I was very upset after hearing that Dr. Oz had made that comment on TV to millions of viewers.  I can tell you that many women take Dr. Oz’s medical advice extremely seriously and want to follow it to a T.  So I did a little online research and found the reference our patient had mentioned:

If these foods don’t sound very appealing to you, there is good news: you don’t have to eat vitamin D to make sure you’re getting your daily dose! Vitamin D is actually produced in your body when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike your skin. The UV rays trigger synthesis of vitamin D, which then gets converted in your liver into its active form.

This means one of the best ways to get vitamin D is to spend about 10-15 minutes a day outside in the sun. Keep in mind that wearing sunscreen will prevent you from getting adequate vitamin D outdoors. In the summertime, an easy solution is skipping sunscreen on your legs for the first 15 minutes in the sun. Just make sure you apply in time to prevent any burns or damage.

If this sounds complicated (or it’s cloudy!), there’s an even easier way to get your vitamin D: many foods in the American diet are fortified with this essential nutrient. In fact, fortified foods provide the majority of vitamin D in our diets.

(From Daily Dose: Vitamin DThe Dr. Oz Show website)

I am not here to quibble about the fact that you can get all the Vitamin D that your body needs from the sun, what I am going to argue against is Dr. Oz’s advice.  Let’s be very realistic here – you’ve thought about it and today you notice it is sunny outside so you think “I’ll be out and about running errands, I won’t put sunscreen on for the first 15 minutes I am out”.  Now how many people do you know who will stop during their busy day and put on sunscreen??  I don’t know any.  People drastically underestimate the amount of damage intermittent sun exposure does to their skin.  Put your sunscreen on everyday before you leave the house.  If you are inside during the day and then leave to go out while it is still sunny put more sunscreen on all your exposed skin.  A tan may look sexy now but wrinkles and dark spots are not sexy later on.  And remember – a tan is a sign of damage to your skin no matter how fabulous you think you look right now.  One of the most common complaints any esthetician hears is about sun damage.  It is very hard to treat hyperpigmentation (one way you can gauge how hard it is to treat a specific skin issue is by the number of products on the market sold to treat it.  There is no perfect solution for hyperpigmentation hence the vast proliferation of products to erase it).  I found this comment about Vitamin D and sun exposure to be just another example of how well-meaning advice will be improperly followed and interpreted out in the real world.

Another case in point – terror over the safety of sunscreens.  The EWG has made numerous headlines over their claims that sunscreens are more harmful than helpful.  As with many controversies the cold hard truth gets lost adminsts the hype.  Renee Rouleau does a good job at explaining one controversial sunscreen ingredient in her blog post Does Sunscreen Cause Cancer?:

While the internet is an amazing resource for information, when a rumor gets out there, it spreads like crazy on the web and when people read it they may consider it to be factual.

One such skin care rumor that has swirled around on the internet for a while now is that octinoxate–the most common sunscreen ingredient in the world– causes cancer. Then the other day I was reading one of the handled bags from a recent Lululemon purchase and was shocked when I read the following printed on their bag: “Sunscreen absorbed into the skin might be worse than sunshine. Get the right amount of sunshine.” What? Did I really read this correctly on a Lululemon bag? Why is a fitness clothing company implying this claim on their cute bags that are given out in the stores? While I’m certainly okay with getting the right amount of sunshine as I do many of my own workouts outdoors, I am not okay with the comment implying that sunscreens may be worse than sunshine. This is wrong and misleading. Can we say melanoma–one of the deadliest forms of cancer??? There is so much scientific evidence that excessive sun exposure can increase your chances of skin cancer.  (Read more about melanoma here.)…

So does sunscreen cause cancer? No. This is simply not true because there is no study at all that proves octinoxate causes cancer, and without a proven scientific study, this claim simply can be not accurate and true.

Some cosmetic brands that do not use this ingredient in their sunscreens will use scare tactics to get consumers to believe that their product is safe and others are harmful. This has been the case with parabens and I have spoken publicly about this here. Instead, they use the phrase “linked to cancer” to scare the public to buy their product, instead of “proven to cause cancer”– and there is a huge difference between the two.

In some studies where octinoxate is “linked” to cancer, the ingredient has been placed in high concentrations directly onto various types of cells taken from skin or other areas of the body (liver, uterus) or was fed to rats or mice in their food. One such study, conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland in 2004, found evidence of endocrine disruption activity in rats fed octinoxate but did not find a link to cancer.*1 Shortly after the 2004 study was published, another research group in Australia found detectable amounts of octinoxate in the stratum corneum and epidermis layers of the skin 24 hours after applying the ingredient to intact skin, but the amount found was 5 times less than studies where octinoxate was applied directly to human keratinocytes in a Petrie dish.

Bottom line: There is no evidence or information about octinoxate causing cancer. Trust me, if there were valid, published studies about octinoxate as a cause of cancer, we would all know about it.

The Skin Cancer Foundation has long refuted the EWG’s claims that sunscreen ingredients are dangerous and are doing more harm than good.

Recent attacks on sunscreens in the media point to imperfections and potential risks, but miss the point that sunscreen continues to be one of the safest and most effective sun protection methods available.

We are concerned that the criticisms will raise unnecessary fears and cause people to stop using sunscreen, doing their skin serious harm.

In general, the criticisms have not been based on hard science. In fact, The Chair of the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Photobiology Committee, an independent panel of top experts on sun damage and sun protection, reviewed the same studies cited in the media, and found that their determination of what made a sunscreen bad or good was based on “junk science.”

(If Recent Attacks on Sunscreen Concern YouThe Skin Cancer Foundation)

In the same article The Skin Cancer Foundation goes on to refute different claims made against sunscreens such as:

• Retinyl Palmitate, a Form of Vitamin A and an Ingredient in 41 Percent of Sunscreens, Speeds up Growth of Tumors and Other Lesions When Exposed to the Sun.

An FDA study is often cited for this data, with some faulting the FDA for not releasing the study. However, the FDA is yet to release the study precisely because it has not gone through proper peer review. Thus, the criticisms are based on an unapproved 10-year-old study of mice that has never been published in any journal. To date, there is no scientific evidence that vitamin A is a carcinogen in humans. What’s more, only trace amounts of retinyl palmitate appear in sunscreens, and some evidence suggests that it is actually protective against cancer.

I think the lesson here is don’t believe everything you read or see on TV.  You’re a smart person, right?  Do some of your own research before just accepting what someone else has to say.

Further watching and reading (from my related posts):

Mary Cassatt painting Children Playing on the Beach image from wikipaintings.org

 

Should You Avoid Spray On Sunscreens? June 14, 2012

Filed under: sun protection — askanesthetician @ 5:00 am
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I spend a lot of time thinking about sun protection.  Anyone who knows me personally or professionally knows that.  So of course when I saw the following post from The Beauty Brains I got to thinking:

Rebecca requests…On a recent trip to the beach I was unfortunate enough to sit down wind of someone applying a spray on sunscreen. I think less than half of what she sprayed actually hit her body because most of it was blown away by the breeze and landed on me!  I could feel it and even see a fine film covering my  sunglasses. I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world a spray on product can provide effective sun protection. Do the spray products use different ingredients than the lotions?

The Left Brain responds:

Formulating a spray-on sunscreen does present different challenges than creating a lotion product.

Spray-on savvy

To start with, even thin emulsions are difficult to spray because they don’t atomize well and they can clog the valve. So, most spray products are solutions of UV absorbers in ethanol. That means only alcohol soluble ingredients like Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, and Oxybenzone can be used.   Physical sunblocks, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are not alcohol soluble so they can’t be sprayed from this type of product.  In addition, to help ensure that the sunscreen coats the skin evenly, film forming ingredients like Acrylates/Octylacrylamide Copolymer are added. These film formers helps keep prevent the alcohol solution from pooling in nooks and crannies of your skin.

Of course none of this matters if too much overspray occurs. If the spray doesn’t hit your skin it’s obviously wasted.  While they are appealing because of ease of application you may be getting less deposition than you realize, especially if you’re applying them on a windy day. Considering how important uniform sunscreen application is for the prevention of sunburn (and potentially skin cancer), I think it’s a bit risky to rely on this kind of spray application.

Perhaps that’s why sprays are not “officially” approved as sunscreens even though they are sold as such. According to an article by Stanley B Levy, MD published Medscape, as of April 11, 2012, “The FDA Final Monograph has not approved sprays as a dosage form pending further considerations and testing.”

Spray-on= $$

Furthermore, all that wasted over spray makes spray-on sunscreens potentially more expensive to use. And when you factor in the cost of ethanol (which is a more expensive  solvent than water) and the aluminum can and the valve hardware (which are more expensive than a plastic lotion bottle), you may end up paying a lot more for the convenience of not getting lotion all over your hands. I think I’ll stick with lotions.

Though I am far from a fan of the EWG this organization also urges people to avoid the use of spray sunscreens because:

Aerosol spray sunscreen packages will soon be required to display FDA-mandated warnings such as “use in a well ventilated area” and “intentional misuse… can be harmful or fatal.” These cautions highlight growing concerns that sprays pose serious inhalation risks. Spray sunscreens also make it too easy to miss a spot, leaving bare skin exposed to harmful rays.

As mentioned in the above quote from the EWG, the FDA is concerned about what people are inhaling when spray sunscreens are used:

For sunscreen spray products, the agency requested additional data to establish effectiveness and to determine whether they present a safety concern if inhaled unintentionally.  These requests arose because sprays are applied differently from other sunscreen dosage forms, such as lotions and sticks.

(From FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreens)

Bottom Line:  Spray on sunscreens are a god sent for people with children who can’t and won’t sit still long enough for you to apply the proper amount of sunscreen to their skin.  Yet even with the best intentions you still run the risk of really not getting adequate sun protection when using these sunscreens.   If you can use cream and lotion sunscreens instead.

 

 

Image from http://www.scientificamerican.com

 

Taking on the EWG and Their Attempts to Scare October 31, 2011

Filed under: Recommended Reading,Skincare products — askanesthetician @ 5:51 am
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On October 19th The Beauty Brains (one of my favorite beauty related blogs) published a great post about how the EWG scares consumers needlessly over the safety of sunscreens and cosmetics.  Numerous times I’ve written in my blog about how I think the EWG’s sunscreen report does more harm than good in the end and that their fear mongering could potentially lead many people to stop using sunscreen thus contributing to the national epidemic of (truly preventable) skin cancer.  (The EWG also enjoys widespread media coverage in the popular press every time they come out with a new and ridiculous sunscreen report.)

Luckily, it turns out that I am not alone in my feelings about the EWG, and someone is actually doing something about this issue.  The main group taking on the EWG is called the Competitive Enterprise Institute a group who calls themselves:

a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty. Our mission is to promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy good politics. We make the uncompromising case for economic freedom because we believe it is essential for entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity to flourish.

In an article from October 18th, 2011, on CEI’s website, called The True Story of Cosmetics Dana Joel Gattuso writes the following about the EWG:

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and its partner, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), are on a crusade to scare consumers away from using cosmetics and hygiene products that contain preservatives and other useful chemicals. As part of their effort to ban the use of synthetic ingredients from skin products, these environmental extremist groups are working to incite fear among consumers, making outrageous and bogus claims that we are poisoning ourselves by using lipstick, makeup, deodorants, skin creams, and even baby products. Specifically, they claim that the additives can cause cancer, create neurological disorders, or cause hormone disruption—even though they are present in trace amounts.

In fact, these preservatives protect users from bacteria. Present in quantities so small—typically, less than 1 percent of a product’s total weight—they are added to prevent contamination and to protect consumers from the buildup of dangerous bacteria that can cause eye infections, skin rashes, and even deadly infections such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Parabens, for example, are added to makeup, deodorants, moisturizers, and body creams to prevent bacteria, fungi, and mold. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, parabens are linked to breast cancer and can cause hormone dysfunction. Yet scientists have refuted the claims, arguing that concentrations of parabens in cosmetics are too small to have an adverse effect, and are at levels in our body thousands to millions of times lower than naturally produced estrogens.

Another example is the chemical oxybenzone, used in sunscreens to protect users from the ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer. The Environmental Working Group warns consumers to stay away from oxybenzone because it “contaminates the body” and can cause hormone disruption and cell damage. Yet cancer research organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation refute EWG’s assertions, arguing that there is no evidence to back the claims of oxybenzone risks. These cancer foundations worry that such fear mongering will scare consumers away from using sun block products that protect consumers from the risks of skin cancer from the sun’s rays.

I was happy to read what CEI wrote about the EWG, their tactics, and shoddy research, but then I found out a bit more about the CEI and was pretty upset.  It turns out the CEI is supported by and partners with very conservative groups (like Philip Morris) and furthermore (and this really upset me), according to the website Sourcewatch, they deny certain scientific facts like how greenhouse gases are causing climate problems:

 CEI is an outspoken anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change skeptic and an opponent of government action that would require limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It favors free-market environmentalism, claiming that market institutions are more effective in protecting the environment than is government In March 1992, CEI’s founder Fred Smith said of anthropogenic climate change: “Most of the indications right now are it looks pretty good. Warmer winters, warmer nights, no effects during the day because of clouding, sounds to me like we’re moving to a more benign planet, more rain, richer, easier productivity to agriculture.” [19]

In May 2006, CEI’s global warming policy activities attracted attention as it embarked upon an ad campaign with two television commercials. These ads promote carbon dioxide as a positive factor in the environment and argue that global warming is not a concern. One ad focuses on the message that CO2 is misrepresented as a pollutant, stating that “it’s essential to life. We breathe it out. Plants breathe it in… They call it pollution. We call it life.”[17] The other states that the world’s glaciers are “growing, not melting… getting thicker, not thinner.”[17] The other states that the world’s glaciers are “growing, not melting… getting thicker, not thinner.” It cites Science articles to support its claims. However, the editor for Science stated that the ad “misrepresents the conclusions of the two cited Science papers… by selective referencing”. The author of the articles, Curt Davis, director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said CEI was misrepresenting his previous research to inflate their claims. “These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate,” Davis said.  (From Sourcewatch)

Luckily it turns out that there is a way to support better oversight for the cosmetic industry without needlessly scaring consumers or compromising on your morals.  You can support the Safe Cosmetic Alliance which is:

comprised of leading beauty and personal care product and services industry trade organizations representing manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retail owners, salon/spa owners, and licensed beauty professionals who support science-based legislative and regulatory policies that enhance consumer and product safety standards.

Together, Alliance members account for nearly 8.2 million U.S. jobs and contribute nearly $189 billion in U.S. GDP every year. The beauty and personal care industry is one of the fastest growing employment segments globally.

Members of the Safe Cosmetics Alliance touch people’s lives every day and reach virtually all Americans who use cosmetic and personal care products, as well as beauty salon services. We represent every aspect of the beauty and personal care industry, including:

  • Your local salon and spa owners, employees and licensed beauty professionals
  • Retail employees that sell cosmetics at your favorite store
  • Independent business owners and direct sales representative agents who sell directly to consumers
  • Companies ranging from small startups to global corporations

We believe it is critically important that laws and regulations reflect the current advances in science and technology, enable industry to innovate, meet consumer expectations, and continue to earn their confidence.

The Safe Cosmetic Alliance has created a petition that asks the FDA to update their oversight over the cosmetic industry.  According to the Safe Cosmetic Alliance website:

While the personal care product and services industry has exhibited an impeccable safety record going beyond the current requirements for safety, it is essential the law keeps pace with advances in science and technology. We must provide new tools for the FDA that modernize and strengthen oversight of personal care products, increase transparency, and enhance existing consumer safety measures.

We can keep our favorite cosmetics and personal care products at the highest level of safety by giving the FDA new tools that improve and strengthen their oversight of personal care products. That is why we must urge lawmakers to support science-based legislation that includes:

  • New FDA review of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel findings.  CIR is a non-profit, independent panel of scientists and physicians who currently review ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products in the U.S.
  • New FDA process to review cosmetic ingredients, allowing the FDA to review and set safety levels for trace contaminants used in cosmetic and personal care products.
  • Registration with the FDA by manufacturers of personal care products. This would make the current voluntary reporting program mandatory for all cosmetic manufacturers and would include the registration and reporting of facilities, product ingredients, and unexpected adverse events that may occur.
  • Requiring the FDA to issue good manufacturing practices for personal care products.

You can sign the Safe Cosmetics Alliances petition here.

Bottom Line:  While I am glad to see that someone is taking on the EWG and refuting their claims I am saddened that the rest of CEI’s politics make me uncomfortable (why can’t people stop fighting the idea of global warming and start doing more about it?  If you don’t believe global warming is a real threat take a few hours out of your day to watch An Inconvenient Truth).  As such I was glad to hear about the Safe Cosmetics Alliance’s work and petition.  Better oversight from the FDA for cosmetic and beauty products will help all consumers, and I hope these efforts will succeed.  (And thanks to The Beauty Brains for doing a great job at keeping their readers updated on all these developments)

 

Nothing New: The EWG’s 2011 Sunscreen Report May 31, 2011

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has issued its annual, damning sunscreen report for 2011.  Here’s the thing – besides changing both its product recommendations and the products that they hate there is nothing different in this report from the 2010 report.  As always the EWG uses scary language and offers even more disturbing “facts” (more on that later on in this post) to the consumer about sunscreens.  Here’s a sample of the EWG’s scare tactics:

Is your sunscreen actually protecting your family as advertised? Or are some of the claims just marketing hype?

Of the more than 600 beach and sports sunscreens analyzed by Environmental Working Group for our 2011 Sunscreen Guide, we can only recommend one in five. The sunscreen industry continues to load store shelves with bottles listing misleading, sky-high SPF ratings that may protect against UVB rays that cause sunburn but leave skin at risk for UVA damage. And nearly one in three products in the guide are still laced with vitamin A ingredients that accelerate the growth of skin tumors and lesions according to recent government studies.

Last year I took my time reading through the 2010 EWG sunscreen report and writing a response here in my blog.  Throughout the year I posted updated information in this blog on the EWG report.  Below I’ve listed my other posts about the 2010 EWG sunscreen report.  Needless to say, the 2010 EWG sunscreen report got a ton of media attention and, in my opinion, created a ton of unnecessary hysteria. 

In my humble opinion it comes down to this – just as you shouldn’t believe every skincare claim by beauty and cosmetic companies you also need to take what the EWG says about sunscreens with a grain of salt.  All their scary claims are controversial.  For example many experts completely disagree with the EWG’s claims about Vitamin A in sunscreens.  If you prefer to follow the EWG’s recommendations than go for it, but please keep in mind that they are one opinion among many about sunscreens.  Having said that there two parts of the sunscreen report that I do agree with.  The first one is about how high spf numbers (like spf 100) are ridiculous and ultimately create more harm than good.  Secondly I agree with the statement that the FDA’s new regulations on sunscreen are LONG overdue. 

Lastly, one of the things that bothers me the most about the EWG’s sunscreen reports is the fact that they are all doom and gloom and frankly, I am afraid that people might stop using sunscreen because of all the doom and gloom in their report.  So until they actually come out with that sunscreen pill I’ve read about keep using your sunscreen every day – no matter what.

 

Further Reading:

 

Online Sources for Skincare Information April 25, 2011

Knowledge is power and though I would love my readers to look to my blog first for all their skincare concerns and questions even I have to admit that sometimes you might find the information you are looking for via another online source.  Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of good online resources for information about skin and skincare.  So in no particular order here are some online resources:

  • As I have mentioned too many times to count in my blog, Allure magazine is one of my favorite glossy magazines.  The magazine recently retooled their website and the “skin” section is definitely worth checking out.  Allure always has lots of up-to-date skincare and beauty information which they convey in a very easy to understand way.
  • WebMD has quite a few resources for information about skincare and skin issues.  One section is all about skin conditions and another is all about skincare concerns, skincare products, cosmetic surgery, anti-aging, etc.  They even have a whole video channel for information about skincare.
  • If you are interested and concerned about the ingredients and safety of your cosmetics you might want to check out the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database which contains tons and tons of information about product safety.  Just be aware that not all experts agree with the EWG’s findings and advice.
  • Paula Begoun’s Beautypedia is now free.  You’ll find all of Begoun’s product reviews on this site. 
  • Check out Dr. Leslie Baumann’s online Skin Type Solution Library which is collection of her articles about skincare, ingredients, skin science, and skin typing.

If you have a favorite online resource for skincare information please let everyone know by posting a comment below.

 

Challenging the EWG on Their Sunscreen Findings April 4, 2011

For the past few years The Environmental Working Group, a health and environmental watch group, has come out with an annual sunscreen report that casts an extremely damning eye on the vast majority of the sunscreens on the market today.  Last year the EWG recommended only 39 out of the 500 sunscreens that they reviewed.  The group called into question the use of retinyl palmitate (or vitamin A) and oxybenzone in sunscreens saying that retinyl palmitate could actually cause cancerous tumors if exposed to sunlight and that oxybenzone (which is so widely used in sunscreens it is hard to find a readily available commercial sunscreen without it) is an endocrine disruptor.  The report also went on to make harsh statements against The Skin Cancer Foundation for putting their seal of approval on sunscreens and the FDA for still not updating its sunscreen regulations, something they said they were going to do back in 1978 (yes, 1978 that isn’t a typo).   One more thing the EWG emphasized in their report was the fact that sunscreens’ were promising false security with exaggerated spf ratings.  I happen to agree with that last point wholeheartedly.  (For more on that issue please see my previous post – Spf 100 is a Joke.)

Last year’s EWG sunscreen report created quite a ruckus and got a lot of media attention.  In my opinion it also created a lot of unnecessary stress, worry, and aggravation particularly for parents who wanted to make sure that their children were properly protected from the sun.  Perhaps what bothered me the most wasn’t the debate about which sunscreens were best because I actually don’t think all sunscreens are created equal, but the lack of insight and the blind following that many people engaged in after reading (or just hearing) about the EWG report.  Instead of investigating the issue for themselves many people, and I knew quite a few personally, didn’t give the EWG’s statements a second thought and instead of doing some of their own investigating they simply became hysterical about buying the “right” sunscreen.  (I tried to cover different sides of this debate in my blog last summer is my posts: Sunscreen Woes – The EWG Releases Its Annual Sunscreen Report and The Debate Continues: More on the Sunscreen Controversy)  So I was pleased to see the recent article Shedding Light on Sunscreens in MedEsthetics Magazine which addressed many of the issues raised in the EWG report last year.

The article in MedEsthetics addressed the issues brought up by the EWG about retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone.  The article explains that the EWG reached their conclusions about retinyl palmitate causing cancerous tumors when exposed to sunlight:

based on initial, unpublished findings from a National Toxicology Program study released in late 2009 by the FDA.  The NTP is the federal government’s principal evaluator of substances that raise public health concerns.  In the study, lab mice were coated in 0.1% to 0.5% vitamin A cream and then exposed to the equivalent of up to nine minutes of midday Florida sunlight each day for one year.  The EWG says that tumors and lesions developed in up to 21% sooner in lab animals coated in the vitamin A cream compared to control animals covered in a vitamin-free cream.

The EWG’s interpretation caught physicians and the industry by surprise.  It wasn’t until November 2010 that dermatologists responded in a paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.  Lead author Steven Q. Wang, MD, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and colleagues disagreed with the EWG conclusions, saying that the number of malignant neoplasms in the two groups of mice were not significantly different in mice exposed to the higher doses of radiation.  They concluded that the evidence did not support calling the combination of retinyl palmitate and UV photocarcinogenic.

The EWG countered with its own online critique of the journal article, saying that it stood by its analysis of the data.  As we await a final report from the NTP, industry leaders weighing in on the evidence seem to agree with this statement from Tatiana Kononov, principle scientist at Revision Skin Care:  Although I applaud the stated mission of the EWG, the release of its report on sunscreens highlighted some harsh generalizations that I think were made solely for publicity purposes.  This specific act by the EWG was unfortunate and irresponsible.  I am sure that many future studies will show that retinyl palmitate is perfectly safe and even beneficial in sunscreen products.”

 As for oxybenzone, which the EWG labeled an endocrine disruptor, once again most experts disagreed with their findings:

The EWG bases its conclusion on studies in which mice were fed large amounts of oxybenzone.  “Oxybenzone has been around for 30 to 40 years, and there is no data showing that topical use is estrogenic in any way,” Dr. Lim says [Dr. Lim is the chairman of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit].  “Since the original mouse studies, several groups have done human studies looking for hormonal effects but found none.”

Oxybenzone is a helpful ingredient because it has some UVA absorption characteristics,” says Kononov.  “It is approved for use in sunscreens by many other countries including Japan, Australia and South Korea.

I have to say that I was pleased to read these counter interpretations of the EWG’s conclusions.  Though I was initially inclined to think the EWG was on to something when I read their report last year I have since decided that their claims were way overblown.  Of course all this makes me wonder – what is the EWG going to say in their 2011 sunscreen report?  Only time will tell.

 

Sunscreen Woes – The EWG Releases Its Annual Sunscreen Report May 28, 2010

 

This week the Environmental Work Group, a non-profit watch dog organization made up of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers that researches and reports on issues concerning public health and the environment, released its newest report on sunscreen.  And the report is a doozy.  According to the standards that it sets for safety and effectiveness of sunscreens only 8% of the 500 beach and sport sunscreens that the EWG tested, that means only 39 out of 500, are recommended by the organization.

The report is extensive and long, I’ve been reading it over the last few days, and if taken at face value – scary.  As with all past EWG sunscreen reports there is much bad news and little good news about sunscreens (none really).  I looked up all my favorite sunscreens (the ones I use personally and the ones I recommend to clients, family, and friends) and all of them got poor ratings from the EWG.  What’s an esthetician to do? 

Here are the main points of the report:

  • Sunscreens do not offer enough UVA protection which then exposes people to cancer
  • Spf ratings have gotten out of control.  Spf ratings of 50 and higher aren’t much more effective than spf 30 and furthermore, the high ratings cause people to both stay out in the sun too long and use too little sunscreen
  • When Vitamin A (look for retinol or retinyl palmitate in the ingredient list) is added to sunscreen it will breakdown in the presence of sunlight and thus speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions
  • As sunscreen ingredients breaks down in the precense of sunlight it causes free radical damage
  • The FDA takes too long to approve new and effective sunscreen ingredients (ingredients that are already used in European sunscreen formulations) and to publish new regulations regarding sunscreen
  • Oxybenzone, a very popular chemical sunscreen ingredient (try finding a sunscreen without it – it’s close to impossible) is a hormone disrupting compound.  This chemical penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream causing damage or worse to the body.

All pretty upsetting things, right?  My fear every time I read the EWG’s sunscreen report is that people will stop using sunscreen because of it.  The EWG even states that the best ways to protect yourself from sunburn and sun damage is not to apply sunscreen but rather to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and avoid the sun in general especially mid-day.  All great advice – but realistically – how many people can maintain a lifestyle like that?

Two other issues brought up in the report interested me in particular.  In the section of the report called Hall of Shame the EWG gives a great big thumbs down to powder sunscreens.  Anyone who has read this blog knows that I use powder (brush-on) sunscreens daily and highly recommend them as a convenient way to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day particularly if you wear make-up.  The EWG objects to powder sunscreens because they say that the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide particles can be easily inhaled and settle in various parts of the body causing damage and irritation.  Another point from the Hall of Shame section of the report is about The Skin Cancer Foundation and their seal of approval on sunscreen products.  According to the EWG all a company has to do in order to receive this seal of approval is to donate $10,000 to the foundation and prove basic claims about their sunscreens and its spf factor.  The company’s seeking approval for their products do not have to prove if the product provides adequate UVA protection, and the company can even make claims about their products that violate FDA regulations.  Since I continually mention The Skin Cancer Foundation in this blog and ways to support their work this information was very interesting to me.

 

So Should You Worry?  Should You Throw Out Your Sunscreens?

Opposing Opinions to the EWG Report

  

 

First and foremost, please keep using sunscreen daily and keep reapplying it especially if you are spending the day outdoors! 

Now should you only use the sunscreens that get the best ratings from the EWG?  Truthfully I don’t know.  First off, all the sunscreens that the EWG recommends are rather obscure, for lack of a better term, for the most part.  These are not the brands that you can readily find on the shelves of Target, Walgreens, and CVS for the most part. 

So is it right to err on the side of caution and only use sunscreens that the EWG recommends?  Perhaps.  But you should know that not everyone agrees with the EWG’s findings.

I found a report on the Cosmetics and Toiletries website that quotes John Bailey, chief scientist of the Personal Care Products Council, views on the EWG report.  The Personal Care Products Council  is the trade association representing the cosmetic, toiletry and fragrance industry in the United States and globally.

I would like to quote the response in full since it addresses all the issues mentioned above:

John Bailey, chief scientist of the Personal Care Products Council, has released a statement in response to the 2010 Environmental Working Group (EWG) Sunscreen Report.

Bailey finds the report unscientific and unsubstantiated, noting that the American Academy of Dermatology, the Skin Cancer Foundation, the Center for Disease Control, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), physicians and other health care professionals have all emphasized the safety of sunscreen use. Bailey is concerned that the group’s report will needlessly cause consumers to avoid using sunscreens, when that use is critical to prevent skin damage and skin cancer.

“Sunscreens in the United States are regulated as OTC drugs by the FDA and must undergo pre-market approval that involves rigorous scientific assessment including safety and efficacy substantiation according to FDA standards,” noted Bailey. He furthered, “The FDA testing and regulatory process for sunscreen products is the most rigorous in the world.”

According to Bailey, EWG did not use the established scientific and regulatory safety assessment process for sunscreen products and ingredients. The following topics are those proposed and questioned in the report.  

Vitamin A: In their report, EWG questioned the safety of vitamin A in sunscreens, referencing the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) announcement in 2000 that it would study the potential of retinyl palmitate to enhance UV radiation-induced photocarcinogenisity. Bailey noted that the study is ongoing (scheduled for late 2010 or early 2011) but is not designed to study retinyl palmitate in the presence or absence of sunscreen formulations. He notes that retinyl palmitate has been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel and found to be safe in cosmetics.

Skin cancer: EWG questions the ability of sunscreen to fight skin cancer based on increased skin cancer rates. Bailey maintains that skin cancer rates are the result of excessive unprotected sun exposure from several decades prior and on our ability to better track, monitor and report occurrence of the disease.

Oxybenzone: In response to the safety of oxybenzone, Bailey notes, “When used as a sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, protects the skin from harmful UV rays. Oxybenzone is also used to protect cosmetics and personal care products from degradation by absorbing UV rays.” Benzophenone-3 is approved in the United States, Canada and the EU as a safe and effective OTC sunscreen ingredient. In addition, it has been found safe for use as a photostabilizer by the CIR. Finally, Bailey added that there have been no available scientific data supporting a link between UV filter exposure to endocrine-disruptive effects in humans.

Nanotechnology: Nanoparticles have been found to pose no risk to human health, according to Bailey. In addition, when used to protect against UV damage, nanoparticles are required to go through an extensive FDA pre-market review process to prove they are safe and effective.

FDA sunscreen monograph: Finally, Bailey added that the FDA is not intentionally delaying the release of the final sunscreen regulations. He noted that establishing sunscreen safety standards is a long and vigorous process, and that the FDA is considering a number of viewpoints before establishing final guidelines.

So who to believe?  Frankly and honestly, I just don’t know.  I wonder sometimes if the EWG is hysterical or if they are right and we are all just sticking our heads in the sand.  This question made me think of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  When the book was first published in 1962 and warned of grave health and environmental issues that were affecting everyone and being ignored by the government and industry, many people didn’t want to believe Carson.  Of course, it turns out that Carson was right, particularly when it came to the horrible effects of DDT on the environment and human health.  So I ask myself – is the EWG right?  Should I follow all their instructions?

Truthfully, at the moment I am not going to change anything.  But when I run out of my current sunscreens I think I will look at the EWG’s recommendations again and perhaps try one of the sunscreens that gets a best rating from them.   As for The Skin Cancer Foundation, I still think their website is an excellent source of information about skin cancer prevention and issues, and I will continue to recommend that people look at the site.  I’ll also keep using my brush-on sunscreen.  I just think that concern might be overblown.

I would be very curious to hear what my readers have to say about the report.  If anyone has tried any of the sunscreens that the EWG recommends I would like to hear what you think about them.

Here is a link to another blogger’s take on the EWG report.  You can find the American Cancer Society’s comments on the EWG report here.

Here is one of  The Skin Cancer Foundation’s response to the EWG report.  This is a more comprehensive response by The Skin Cancer Foundation.

And here is a comment from Allure magazine about the issue of Vitamin A in sunscreens.

P.S.  – About two weeks after writing the above post I went to the dermatologist for a skin cancer screening.  While there I asked her what she thought of the EWG’s sunscreen report.   Her response was that she didn’t agree with the findings in the report and that the group’s conclusions were misguided and even silly.  Though my initially my thoughts about the EWG sunscreen report had been more borderline, that I was inclined to change my sunscreens to recommended brands by the EWG eventually, now after more thought I am beginning to think that the dermatologist is right.  Since the EWG is the ONLY group saying the things that they are saying about sunscreens I want validation for at least another source before agreeing with them.  The dermatologist told me that she recommends La Roche Posay Anthelios 45 Ultra-Light Fluid for Face and Vanicream SPF 30 (which by the way the EWG thinks is ok) as good sunscreens for her patients to use. 

For more opinions on the sunscreen controversy see my post The Debate Continues.

For Dr. Leslie Baumann’s opinion about the EWG’s sunscreen report see this blog post by her.

The American Academy of Dermatology disagrees with the EWG’s findings on retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) in sunscreens.

 

 

 
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