Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sunscreen Safety

After last week's jaunt into the desert and sunshine, it's obvious that my photosensitive skin that has been lulled into submission by the Pacific Northwest's cloudy winter is re-emerging and is cranky as heck.

I need to get serious about using sunscreen. Every day. No excuses. Or I'll find myself dealing with a repeat of last summer's ridiculously difficult splotch/hive episode.

So I'm on a quest to find a sunscreen that effectively blocks both UVA and UVB radiation, yet isn't laden with chemicals that could potentially create more problems than it prevents. As with most of my quests lately, this is proving to be a very complicated process.

Nothing is simple in Julia Land.

A 2009 report issued by the Environmental Working Group created a ruckus in the sunblock world when it concluded that a common ingredient in most sunblocks, oxybenzone, was unsafe:
 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found detectable levels of oxybenzone in the urine of 97% of Americans over the age of six. In laboratory tests, oxybenzone been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and release reactive oxygen species that could contribute to skin cancer. Up to 9% of oxybenzone applied to the skin absorbs into living tissues and blood vessels below the surface.
The group also concluded that a significant percentage of sunblocks did not provide adequate protection from both UVA and UVB radiation:
Most sunscreens protect from UVB, or sunburn radiation. Higher SPFs indicate more protection. Far fewer brands contain ingredients that block UVA radiation, even though a growing number of studies show it is even more harmful than UVB radiation. UVA radiation hastens the progression of skin cancer, suppresses the immune system, and ages the skin over time.
Not everyone agrees with their conclusions. The Skin Cancer Foundation issued the following response:
We agree with the Environmental Working Group that UVA sunscreens should be required by the FDA. However we are concerned that the sunscreen summary issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) will raise unnecessary confusion and cause people to stop using sunscreen.....“Oxybenzone is approved, after extensive review, by the FDA, European Union, and in Canada and in many Asian countries as a UV filter. As such, consumers should be assured that based on currently available data, and in the opinion of regulatory agencies, oxybenzone is a safe and effective UV filter.” according to Dr. Henry W. Lim, member of The Skin Cancer Foundation Photobiology Committee.
You can read the EWS's recommended sunscreen list here. You can read the SCF's sunscreen recommendations here. The Skin Cancer Foundation also has a terrific page which explains UV radiation, skin response, and describes ingredients found in most sunscreens and their properties. To read more about the sunscreen discussion in much greater detail, read this article aimed at health professionals on Medscape. 

Image by Henkster


maria said...

This topic has been on my mind, too, as the sun has finally arrived here in the PNW. It's the "based on currently available data" part that gets me in trying to make informed decisions on just how to get my vit D without frying.

Then again, if it isn't the sunscreen that will get me, there is a whole drawer of "treatments" I visit twice a day that probably will.

One way or another, eh?

Anonymous said...

I didn't know people with SJogren could be affect by the sun. I will be cautious then.