Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

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:


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.


Spf 100 Is A Joke August 10, 2010

Have you noticed lately that you can easily find sunscreens with a SPF of 50, 70, or even 100?  Have you wondered if those sunscreens protect you better than ones that have a SPF of 30? 

Actually you should think twice before using a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 30. 


First of All – What Does the SPF Rating Mean?


In order to understand why you really don’t need a SPF over 30 you first need to understand the SPF ratings.  The Skin Cancer Foundation does a good job at explaining what SPF means:

The SPF rating is a reliable measurement of protection against UVB (short-spectrum) wavelengths (290-320 nanometers; 1 nm is a billionth of a meter). SPF is the comparative ratio between the minimal erythemal dose (MED) in skin protected with sunscreen and the MED in unprotected skin. For example, if it takes 20 minutes without protection to produce erythema, an SPF 15 sunscreen might prevent reddening 15 times longer—about five hours. That figure is theoretical, however, and sun damage can occur even without reddening, so dermatologists normally advise reapplying after approximately two hours.The Skin Cancer Foundation considers SPFs of 15 or higher acceptable UVB protection. Such sunscreens also provide some protection against UVA wavelengths (320-400 nm), though the SPF rating refers only to UVB protection. No FDA-approved measurement standard exists yet for UVA protection in the US, even though UVA penetrates more deeply into the skin than UVB, reaching the dermis. In the past, experts believed that UVB causes burning and skin cancer, while UVA causes photoaging, but the truth has proven more complex. In addition to producing sunburn, UVB can contribute to photoaging, and both UVA and UVB exposure can lead to skin cancer.

Broad-spectrum sunscreens combine UVB and UVA-absorbing chemicals and/or physical blockers, and give the most protection. However, they do not provide complete coverage in the UVA1 range (340 – 400 nm).


How Much Sun Is Blocked?


SPF 30 does not give you twice the sun protection of SPF 15.  Dr. Ellen Marmur explains the SPF rating confusion in her book Simple Skin Beauty thusly (page 88):

SPF math is also deceptive because the numbers don’t add up.  SPF 30 does not double the protection of SPF 15, for example.  It would figure that you should be able to stay in the sun thirty times longer, but that’s not the case.  An SPF 15 allegedly blocks 93 to 95 percent of UVB rays, while an SPF 30 supplies 97 percent coverage.  So bumping your SPF to over 50 doesn’t make it that much more protective.

Furthermore, The Skin Cancer Foundation answers the following question on their website:

Q. Many people mistakenly believe that an SPF 30 rating gives twice as much sun protection as an SPF 15 and an SPF 50 more than three times that much. What is really the difference?

A. In vitro tests have shown that SPF 15 sunscreens filter out 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97% and SPF 50 98%.



What’s Wrong with SPF 100


As you now understand from what you’ve read above that anything over SPF 30 doesn’t give you much more sun protection than the sunscreen with SPF 30.  So do so many people persist on using products with a high SPF and why do so many companies manufacture them?  The answer comes down to people thinking that they are getting superior sun protection and the fact that companies are more than happy to sell that false hope.   According to the Environmental Working Group:

In 2007, the FDA published draft regulations that would prohibit companies from labeling sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) higher than “SPF 50+.” The agency wrote that higher values would be “inherently misleading,” given that “there is no assurance that the specific values themselves are in fact truthful…” (FDA 2007).

Since then FDA has been flooded with data from sunscreen makers seeking to win agency approval for high-SPF products, and store shelves have been increasingly packed with high-SPF products the agency has yet to validate. Johnson & Johnson (makers of Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreens) submitted data in August 2008 to support SPF 70 and SPF 85 claims (J&J 2008). Playtex (Banana Boat sunscreen) sent data supporting high SPF claims in 2007. A Coppertone spokeswoman said, “Many manufacturers, including Coppertone, have submitted new data [on high-SPF products] for review and are awaiting FDA’s response” (Boyles 2009).

High-SPF sunscreens are popular. Sales have been on the rise for at least a decade, so it’s no wonder that sunscreen makers are fighting to keep them legal. In a letter to FDA 10 years ago, Neutrogena cited consumers’ clear demand for high SPF products, calling them “one of the fastest growing segments” of the market (Neutrogena 2000). Between 2004 and 2008, sales of high-SPF products in Europe (SPF 40 and 50+) swelled from 15 percent to 20 percent of the market (Jones 2010). In 2010, sunscreen makers have once again increased their high-SPF offerings in the US. Nearly one in six products now lists SPF values higher than “SPF 50+”, compared to only one in eight the year before, according to EWG’s analysis of nearly 500 beach and sport sunscreens.


My anger with SPF 100 (or 50 or 70) really comes down to giving people a false sense of protection.  No matter what SPF rating your sunscreen has it gets used up over time and needs to reapplied.  People also use less of sunscreens with a SPF higher than 30 which means they actually get less sun protection and are really exposing themselves to more sun damage.  Once again I’ll quote from Dr. Marmur’s book (page 128):

 A 1999 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that using higher-SPF sunscreens lead to increased sun exposure.  In the experiment, one group was given a low-SPF sunscreen, while the other sued SPF 30.  The group given the higher SPF spent 20 percent more time in the sun than the other group.  Even though it’s wrong-headed, we’re often guilty of spending more time in the sun than we should and not reapplying a sunscreen just because the SPF is 50 or 70.  Those are deceptive numbers for sure, and inaccurate – especially if you remember that a higher SPF give you only a fraction more protection.  In fact, for these reasons, the FDA is considering limiting SPF values to 30, with higher SPF labeled “30 plus”.


 The Bottom Line


When it comes to sunscreen use SPF 30 will give you more than adequate protection.  What is most important when it comes to sunscreen use is applying enough sunscreen (an adult needs a shot glass size amount of sunscreen for their whole body) and to reapply sunscreen throughout the day – every two hours if you are spending the day outdoors.  It is also important to look for a sunscreen that gives you protection from both UVA and UVB rays.


Sources and Further Reading


The Debate Continues: More on the Sunscreen Controversy July 8, 2010

The New York Times  just published an online debate about the sunscreen controversy.*  Actually it isn’t even much of a debate since all the experts seem to pretty much agree on a few major points when it comes to sunscreen. 

 In a section of the online paper called Room for Debate – A Running Commentary on the News in an article entitled What We Still Don’t Know About Sunscreens five experts weigh in on some of the most pressing sunscreen topics:  the need for new FDA regulations in regards to sunscreen, the fact that the FDA needs to approve more sunscreen ingredients, if Vitamin A in sunscreens is harmful, the need for both proper UVA and UVB protection in sunscreens, and the need for continued research into effective sunscreen formulations.

The experts who give their opinions are:

  • Darrell S. Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology
  • Sonya Lunder, Environmental Working Group
  • Michael K. Hansen, Consumers Union
  • Kerry Hanson, chemist, University of California, Riverside
  • Lenora Felderman, dermatologist

    All the experts agree that the FDA needs to step up their game when it comes to sunscreens.  The FDA has been dragging their feet about both approving new sunscreen ingredients (for example “In the U.S., there are 17 approved sunscreen agents, Europe has 28, and Japan has more than 40”) and about requiring sunscreen manufacturers to test their sunscreens for UVA protection and to inform consumers about the amount of that protection in their product.

    Obviously the contributor to the debate from the EWG is going to have many issues with almost all the commercial sunscreens on the market, but I was surprised to find that other experts agreed with her on certain points including the need for more research on the use of Vitamin A in sunscreens and its link to cancer.  One commentator even brought up the issue of nanoparticles. 

    Two issues came through loud and clear in this debate.  One is the need for the FDA to approve more sunscreen ingredients.  The second issue is the need for the FDA to approve new regulations and testing criteria for sunscreens before they enter the market place.   I think consumers would be better protected from sun exposure if the FDA would move forward quickly with both those issues.

    *  I’ve covered this topic before in this blog.  Please see my earlier post: Sunscreen Woes


    I Got a Skin Cancer Screening – Here Are All the Details June 8, 2010



    PLUS –  a few things I learned about sunscreen during my visit to the dermatologist:

    I do think it is important to practice what you preach so I went to get a skin cancer full body exam.  Of course the fact that my husband mentioned that a mole on the back of my neck which I can’t see at all looked strange to him helped push me to make the appointment as well.

    The appointment itself was quick and easy and made all the better by the fact that the dermatologist was friendly and outgoing.  The nurse took my vitals and had me remove all my clothes except my bra and underwear; I put on a paper robe with the opening in the back.  Once the doctor entered the exam room I told her about the two moles I wanted her to look at in particular.  After she looked the moles over the doctor examined my entire body – from the scalp down, front and back including under my bra.   It took all of five minutes – quick and easy like I said.  Just think – five minutes to put your mind at ease (which is what happened with me) or to diagnosis a serious skincare condition.  I truly don’t see a reason not to do a screening.



    And the sunscreen issue:

    Since the dermatologist was so friendly I jumped at the opportunity to pick her brain a bit about some skincare issues.  First off I asked her what she thought about the EWG annual 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 (see my earlier blog post about the report), 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). 


    So please consider getting a skin cancer screening ASAP.   All you need is five minutes (and ok time to wait to see the doctor too)


    For more reasons to get a skin cancer exam read this article from Skin Inc. :  Skin Cancer Screenings More Important Than Ever


    Why You Need Sunscreen June 2, 2010

    When I saw this article – For Boomers, Sunblocks Come Late –  in The New York Times a few weeks ago I debated if I should write a  post about it or not.  At the time I decided against writing a post about the article because I felt that I had already written enough in my blog about the need for proper sun protection and how you can and should protect yourself from the sun in order to avoid skin cancer.   But today I changed my mind in light of the EWG report on sunscreen and the overwhelming interest that people have in the report.  As I wrote in my own blog post about the report, one of the things that I am afraid that will happen because of this negative report on sunscreens is that people will stop using their sunscreens altogether out of fear that the sunscreens are doing more harm than good.  In my opinion nothing could be further from the truth so I felt that this article had now became more timely and showed with great clarity why you need and want to use sunscreen daily.

    The author of the article Michael Winerip chronicles his own history of severe sunburns in his youth and skin cancer lesions he developed later in life.  As in the case of other articles I’ve written about in the past I think excerpting parts of the article here would be interesting (and enlightening):

    Older white men like me are the worst when it comes to skin cancer rates. While the death rate from melanoma — the most severe skin cancer — has been declining for 20 years for people under 50, men over 50 have the highest increase in death rate, 3.2 percent a year since 2002. The highest annual increase in incidence of melanoma is among white men over 65, 8.8 percent a year since 2003. And while there’s also rapid growth among young white women ages 15 to 34 (40 percent of 18-year-old women have used a tanning bed in the last year, compared to 8 percent of men, according to the American Academy of Dermatology), nearly twice as many men as women die of skin cancer each year.

    So here’s what I can’t figure: How could I have been so stupid? How was I so oblivious for 40 years, and could I blame my mother for any of this? Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, 59, a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, and editor of “Cancer of the Skin,” a leading textbook in the field, advises against blaming mothers. “My own mother would spend hours tanning in the backyard, and developed a melanoma,” he said. “The public awareness on this is relatively new, 20 to 25 years.”

    The progression from serious sun exposure to skin cancer can take decades to unspool in our DNA. “What we’re seeing now, in increased rates of melanoma, is what people did in the ’80s,” Dr. Rigel said. “Baby boomers out baking in the ’80s.”

    Why didn’t baking boomers slather up? Turns out, the protective sunblock that we’ve doused our children with is relatively new. “In the ’60s and ’70s all we had was suntan lotion with an SPF of 2, to take a little edge off the sun,” Dr. Rigel said. “The first SPF 15 was introduced in 1986 and 30 SPF not until the early ’90s.”

    Furthermore, dermatology was quite primitive when we were born. In the 1950s, Dr. Rigel said, doctors were still amputating limbs to stop the spread of melanoma. As late as the 1980s, he said, there were no good studies on how big a margin needed to be when removing a melanoma, and incisions would stretch 8 to 10 inches.

    As to why we boomers were the first to metastasize in a big way, Dr. Rigel rounded up the usual suspects: increased wealth and leisure; the explosion in air travel, allowing more vacations in sunny Florida, California and Arizona and at ski resorts; a thinning ozone layer; and a longer life span that gives us the opportunity to die of more things.

    The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most treatable of cancers when caught early. Since the American Academy of Dermatology undertook its first national public health campaign 25 years ago, there has been steady progress in reducing death rates. The five-year survival rate for melanomas has improved from 82 percent in the mid-’70s to 87 percent in the mid-’80s and to 92 percent by the mid-2000s.

    Early detection is crucial. If a melanoma is removed while still confined to the skin, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent; if it has spread to the lymph system or blood, the survival rate drops to 65 percent; if it has reached the organs, 15 percent.

    And if you need to be scared into a checkup, Dr. Rigel can do it: “For a melanoma the size of a dime, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance it’s already spread beyond the skin.”

    And that, he said, helps explain why the mortality rate is increasing among men over 65. “They’re resistant to getting spots looked at,” Dr. Rigel said. “They tell me, ‘I’m only here because my wife made me.’ ”


    I think this article does a great job of highlighting some key issues: why you need to use sunscreen, why you should be concerned about skin cancer, why you must avoid tanning beds (or cancer beds as I like to call them), and why you should go to a dermatologist for a skin cancer body scan.


    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.



    Nanoparticles in Sunscreens – Should You Worry? May 19, 2010

    When it comes to skincare advice a few sources of information consistently upset me.  One is all the misinformation on the web about skincare (one of the reasons I started this blog was to “combat” all that misinformation) and the other is the so-called skincare advice found in glossy fashion magazines.  Now I love fashion magazines – LOVE them – but for the fashion not for the skincare advice.  I do love to get make-up advice and tips for fashion magazines, but for me fashion magazines consistently fall short when it comes to skincare advice.  Either the advice given is basic, even out-dated or it is just downright wrong or ridiculous.  In my opinion only Allure and Elle actually do real in-depth research about skincare issues and trends. 

    One beauty editor who constantly gets my goat is Jean Godfrey-June, the beauty editor at Lucky magazine.  I happen to love Lucky for the fashion advice because they highlight trends and clothes that I can actually afford and would want to wear.  I love the way they style the clothes as well.  But when it comes to skincare advice Lucky sucks, in my opinion.  In particular the advice that Godfrey-June gives in her monthly column “The Beauty Closet” makes me want to scream.  Since I took the time to read Godfrey-June’s book about being a beauty editor I now know that she has absolutely no expertise in skincare beyond reporting about it (see my review of her book).  I can take or leave her make-up advice, but her skincare advice is so completely off base at times that I felt I needed to mention it here in this blog.  For example in the June issue of Lucky in the article “Clear Skin Forever: 12 Rules for achieving a perfect complexion no matter how bad you think it is” rule number 5 is:

    The only topical treatment to even slightly faze the dreaded body acne is copious amounts of isopropyl alcohol.

    This is completely terrible advice!  Isopropyl alcohol is drying and irritating for the skin.  On top of that it can create free radical damage in the skin.  And I should add that this is not the first time that the beauty staff at Lucky has recommended isopropyl alcohol as a treatment for body acne.  (By the way, the correct way to treat body acne is exactly how you would treat the acne on your face.  Look for products with AHA, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide in them)

    And then in the same issue there was this gem of advice regarding sunscreen:

    The Beauty Closet

    Anyone who has ever looked for a no-artificial-chemicals, all-mineral, whole-body sunscreen that does not leave you covered in a whitish film has been, until now, a very frustrated person. This brilliant, answer-to-all-my-dreams SPF30 sinks in instantly, miraculously.

    And no, it has no nanoparticles either (if you’re the sort of person searching for the above ultimate formula, you do not want nanoparticles). And it smells nice! Like … lotion. That unobtrusive-yet-somehow-comforting lotion smell.




    So perhaps you are wondering – what made me so upset about this product recommendation?  Let me explain.  First of all there are many, many great sunscreen formulations out there that include chemical ingredients and will not damage your skin.  Yes, some people do believe that physical blocks ( titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) are the best sunscreen ingredients just as many people believe that chemical sunscreen ingredients are just as effective as the physical ones and in some cases even better because they are longer lasting for one thing.  It all comes down to finding a sunscreen that you like and that works well with your skin type (and that you like enough to reapply throughout the day).  Chemical, physical ingredients – just use your sunscreen please!

    But what was written about nanoparticles really bugged me since Godfrey-June states that if you want an all mineral sunscreen you also do not want nanoparticles in your sunscreens.   Of course, she doesn’t explain what nanoparticles are or why you would want to avoid products with them. 

    I had actually been meaning to address the issue of nanoparticles in sunscreens for some time and seeing this item in Lucky finally prompted me to write this post.  The issue of nanoparticles in sunscreens is far from a simple issue and when it comes to nanoparticles in sunscreens in particular different, very credible, sources actually have come out in defense of  their use in sunscreens.


    What Are Nanoparticles?


    Simply put nanoparticles are tiny particles (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter) of an ingredient.  Scientists shrink ingredient particles to such small microscopic size in order for the ingredient to be able to penetrate cell membranes.  When it comes to sunscreen the ingredients that are nanosized are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide so that sunscreens do not leave a white film when applied to the skin.  The use of nanotechnology in sunscreens improves the aesthetic quality of the sunscreen and thus makes it much more likely that consumers will be willing to use the sunscreen.

    The use of nanoparticles is certainly not limited to skincare products.  Nanoparticles can be found in a range of products from toothpaste to nutritional supplements to food colorants.


    The Controversy Over Nanoparticles


    The controversy with nanoparticles stems from research that suggests that when nanoparticles are absorbed into the skin, inhaled, or other wise consumed they can damage chromosomes and cause inflammation that could lead to cancer.   But the data about nanoparticles/nanotechnology is far from conclusive and far from exhaustive.  Much more research needs to be done about this new field of technology before a general conclusion can be reached that nanotechnology is dangerous to humans. 

    When it comes to skincare products and nanotechnology it must be remembered that even if there is data that nanotechnology can be harmful to humans it might not be harmful in all forms.  Inhaling and consuming products with nanoparticles might be much more dangerous than spreading a product on your face with nanoparticles.  This is the very point about nanotechnology that has to do with sunscreens.


    Sunscreens and Nanotechnology


    Most sunscreens sit on top of the skin and do not penetrate past the the very top layer of the skin.  As such the use of nanoparticles in sunscreens do not pose a threat to consumers.  But don’t just take my word for it.  The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization of scientists, engineers, lawyers, and policy makers that researches and advocates on issues of public health and the environment, reached the same conclusion in their annual report on sunscreens in 2009.  The EWG is a watch dog group that does extensive research on a huge range of subjects that affect public health and their conclusions can be taken seriously.

    Instead of paraphrasing the EWG report I will instead highlight some of the important points from the report here.  I want to quote quite a bit of the report since it does a great job of explaining the risks involved with the nanoparticles in sunscreens and then fully explains the conclusions of different research studies about nanoparticles and sunscreens. 

    I get the feeling that people are having a knee jerk reaction to nanoparticles in sunscreens like they do to the issue of parabens in skincare products.  There is a lot of smoke and mirrors and hysteria without any real scientific evidence to support the fears that people express over those ingredients.  So please read the excerpts below.  You’ll find a link to the full report at the end of this post.


    Nanotechnology and Sunscreens by the Environmental Working Group:

    When we began our sunscreen investigation at the Environmental Working Group, our researchers thought we would ultimately recommend against micronized and nano-sized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens. After all, no one has taken a more expansive and critical look than EWG at the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics and sunscreens, including the lack of definitive safety data and consumer information on these common new ingredients, and few substances more dramatically highlight gaps in our system of public health protections than the raw materials used in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. But many months and nearly 400 peer-reviewed studies later, we find ourselves drawing a different conclusion, and recommending some sunscreens that may contain nano-sized ingredients.

    Consumer Reports (2007) testing showed that consumers can be protected from UV radiation using products free of nano-scale ingredients like zinc and titanium. We expected to find this as well, but we took our study further than Consumer Reports to be certain. We looked not only at whether or not products provide broad-spectrum UV protection, but also at which sunscreens break down in the sun, and at the full range of potentially hazardous sunscreen ingredients that can absorb through the skin and into the body to pose other risks. Our answers changed.

    Our study shows that consumers who use sunscreens without zinc and titanium are likely exposed to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients than consumers relying on zinc and titanium products for sun protection. We found that consumers using sunscreens without zinc and titanium would be exposed to an average of 20% more UVA radiation — with increased risks for UVA-induced skin damage, premature aging, wrinkling, and UV-induced immune system damage — than consumers using zinc- and titanium-based products. Sunscreens without zinc or titanium contain an average of 4 times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more) (EWG 2007).

    We also reviewed 16 peer-reviewed studies on skin absorption, nearly all showing no absorption of small-scale zinc and titanium sunscreen ingredients through healthy skin. In a 2007 assessment the European Union found no evidence of nano-scale particles absorbing through pig skin, healthy human skin, or the skin of patients suffering from skin disorders (NanoDerm 2007). Overall, we found few available studies on the absorption of nano-scale ingredients through damaged skin, but nearly all other sunscreen chemicals approved for use in the U.S. also lack these studies.

    On balance, EWG researchers found that zinc and titanium-based formulations are among the safest, most effective sunscreens on the market based on available evidence. The easy way out of the nano debate would be to steer people clear of zinc and titanium sunscreens with a call for more data. In the process such a position would implicitly recommend sunscreen ingredients that don’t work, that break down soon after they are applied, that offer only marginal UVA protection, or that absorb through the skin.

    If this were nano-containing eye shadow, blush, or body glitter our position would be different — if it’s not protecting your health, don’t use it. But sunscreen is meant to protect us from exposure to a known human carcinogen, UV radiation, responsible for some of the more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in this country every year.

    EWG conducted our sunscreen study because comprehensive sunscreen safety standards have not yet been set in this country. FDA has been drafting these standards for 31 years, and still has set no firm deadline for finalizing their latest proposed rule, issued in August 2007. FDA has also not yet evaluated sunscreen chemicals that are widely available in other parts of the world and that could potentially replace nanoparticles in sunscreen.

    EWG has called for more safety studies for all sunscreens, nano or not. We’ve called for more data to understand when and in what amounts these ingredients penetrate the skin, and we’ve advocated for science-based assessments of health risks, so that everyone from consumers to health officials at FDA will know that we have the best possible products on the market. For nano-scale ingredients we have also called for full labeling so consumers can make informed choices.

     safety concerns surrounding nanomaterials lead some manufacturers’ choice to label their products as free of nanoscale zinc and titanium. EWG’s 2009 analysis of sunscreens identified 16 manufacturers claiming to steer free of nanoparticles.Consumers should view such claims with skepticism. FDA has neither set standards for nanoparticle claims nor defined the maximum dimensions of a nanoparticle. Products claiming to be nano-free do not divulge the size of the particles used instead. Friends of the Earth has called for consumers to avoid zinc and titanium-based sunscreens unless manufacturers specify that they use no nanoparticles (FOE 2007). A more reliable criteria is the color of the sunscreen: larger particles leave a white coating on the skin.

    Sunscreen manufacturers have used nano-scale titanium dioxide since 1990 and nano-scale zinc since 1999. Now the typical size for titanium in sunscreens is 10-100 nm for titanium and 30 to 200 nm for zinc (Nohynek 2007). At these sizes both zinc and titanium are nearly transparent. An estimated 1,000 tons of nanoparticles were used in sunscreen worldwide from 2003 to 2004 (Börm 2006). Nano zinc and titanium are thought to be widely used in US sunscreens, although they are rarely labeled as such. The common label terms “micronized” and “ultra-fine” do not preclude the presence of nano zinc or titanium in sunscreen. Consumer Reports recently tested 8 mineral sunscreens and detected nanoparticles in each one (Consumer Union 2007).

    The European Union and Australian cosmetic regulatory bodies have reviewed the toxicity of zinc and titanium nano-ingredients in sunscreen. In 2000, the EU approved nanoscale titanium for use in sunscreen, concluding that the chemical does not penetrate the skin or present risks for cytotoxicity, phototoxicity, or genotoxicity (SCCNFP 2000). In 2004 the same panel reviewed nano-scale zinc and found the evidence insufficient to support its use in sunscreen. The panel could not preclude the possibility that nanoscale zinc might penetrate the skin or damage human DNA (SCCNFP 2004). In 2005 the panel called for additional study by manufacturers to evaluate these concerns (SCCP 2005). The EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Products recently recommended a case-by-case risk assessment of all nanoparticles used in cosmetics, particularly those particles that are insoluble and biopersistent, with the potential to build up in body tissues (SCCP 2007).

    In 2006 the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration concluded that the weight of evidence showed no penetration of nanoscale zinc and titanium to viable skin cells (Australia TGA 2006). The US has not evaluated the safety of nanoscale zinc and titanium in sunscreen. The FDA considers their approval of zinc and titanium as sunscreens to encompass all particle sizes.

    Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer moderate to strong UVA protection. In the nano size range UVB protection increases and UVA protection decreases. These 2 chemicals are among only 4 US-approved sunscreens providing significant UVA protection. The remaining two, Avobenzone and Mexoryl SX, provide UVA-I protection. However Avobenzone can be quite unstable and Mexoryl is not widely sold in the U.S. Two alternative UVA blockers, Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M, have been used in Europe since 2000 but have not yet been approved by FDA.

    The European Union-funded NanoDerm project conducted a series of experiments over 3 years and found no evidence of dermal penetration in human and pig skin using a variety of analytical techniques, titanium types, and test conditions. NanoDerm focused on titanium penetration since zinc is not approved for use in European sunscreens. They observed that nano-scale titanium particles often aggregated into larger masses on skin, and penetrated deepest in hair shafts. The project also performed absorption studies on skin samples from several patients with psoriasis, which has been a particular concern because skin affected by this condition lacks a protective barrier. Titanium particles penetrated nearly to the level of living skin cells (keratinocytes), but researchers found no evidence that the particles reached the bloodstream. None of their 11 publications found evidence that nano-scale titanium reached “vital tissues” (NanoDerm 2007; Kiss 2008).

    EWG separately reviewed results from 16 academic experiments representing a variety of skin types (mouse, pig or human skin) and including nano-scale titanium and zinc. All of the studies examining human skin or pig skin (the most suitable surrogate for human skin) conclude that very few particles, if any, reach living skin cells (Cross 2007; Dussert 1997; Gamer 2006; Gottbrath 2003; Kiss 2007; Lademann 1999; Landsdown 1997; Mavon 2007; Menzel 2004; NanoDerm 2008; Pflücker 2001; Pirot 1996; Schulz 2002; Tan 1996; Wu 2000; Zvyagin 2008). The only signs of penetration come from studies of hairless mice, whose skin is much more permeable than human or pig skin (Kuo 2009; Wu 2009).

    One recent study found no titanium particle penetration and limited zinc particle penetration (1.5 to 2.3%), though the study is difficult to interpret because of apparent background contamination of laboratory materials by zinc (Gamer 2006). Hair follicles make up 0.1% of the skin surface and can be potential openings for deeper movement of nanoparticles into skin. Penetration studies for nano zinc and titanium note accumulation of the particles in follicles, but no movement into deeper tissues (Lademann 1999, 2005, 2006, 2007; NanoDerm 2007).

    The available research, including studies of psoriatic skin tested by NanoDerm, does not completely address the potential for penetration in damaged skin. Sunburned skin might be more permeable, as might skin of children or the elderly, or thinner skin that occurs in some areas of the body. The NanoDerm assessment concluded that sunscreen containing titanium nanoparticles should not be applied to open wounds, and called for more study of psoriatic skin, which has a damaged outer protective barrier.

    Two studies find direct evidence of skin penetration to hairless mice (Kuo 2008, Wu 2009). Hairless mouse skin is less than half as thick as human skin and is a poorer barrier to absorption (Kuo 2009). The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products considers it to be a poor proxy for human exposure (SCCP 2006).


    Our assessment of the comparative benefits of zinc and titanium sunscreens that might contain nanoparticles is obviously not meant as an endorsement of all nano-scale products nor the manufacturing processes. But we find nano-scale zine and titanium to be reasonable choices for use in sunscreen, particularly given the known hazards of UV exposure, and the limited choices for UV protection in the United States. We are concerned about the potential for nanoparticle inhalation with powder or spray forms of mineral sunscreens, particularly given marketing claims promoting their use on faces and on children’s skin. EWG urges consumers to avoid mineral-based sunscreens sold in powder or spray forms, and for manufacturers of these products to avoid using nano-scale particles. Consumers can expect a wider range of safe and effective products when FDA finalizes comprehensive sunscreen standards and reassesses the safety of all sunscreens to ensure they are effective and that they are safe for people and the environment alike.



    Bottom Line



    I trust the research done by the EWG and see absolutely no reason to be concerned about nanoparticles in sunscreens that are rubbed into the skin.  Remember to always take the skincare information that you read in glossy fashion magazines with a grain of salt.  The people writing those articles are journalists not dermatologists, not estheticians, and not scientists.  Do your own research before reaching conclusions. 


    And one last word about sunscreens.  I think the Skin Cancer Foundation says it best:

    Consumers should rest assured that sunscreen products are safe and effective when used as directed. Since our inception 30 years ago, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen which includes seeking the shade and covering up with clothing.


    So get out your sunscreen, with or without nanoparticles, and use it!







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