Is sunscreen really safe?


Is sunscreen really safe?

Summer is here and you know it’s time to lather up with SPF, but you may have some questions about the safety, effectiveness and formula of your sunscreen.

G. Anthony Slagel, D.O., a dermatologist at Piedmont, helps wade through SPF myths and facts so you can feel confident about protecting your skin from cancer-causing rays.

The chemicals in sunscreen do more harm than good: MYTH

Some argue sunscreen is a hormone disruptor and can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body's hormonal balance. However, Dr. Slagel points out that sunscreen is used in such low doses that the risk of hormone disruption is low.

Dr. Slagel says the safety concerns of sunscreen are based on extrapolations from tests on lab mice and rates, not humans. The human biological system is very different from these rodents. Therefore, these studies should not be directly associated with how sunscreen affects the human body. No studies to date have directly linked sunscreen to cancer in humans.

You should pay attention to the ingredients in your natural sunscreen: FACT 

Dr. Slagel warns that while “natural” sunscreens sound like a great option, they too have been manipulated and therefore the true benefits are somewhat misleading.

“The zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in natural sunscreens have been modified into nano-particles to get rid of their white, cakey characteristics. We don’t know the extent of how these nano-particles interact with our skin and system yet. These particles are so tiny that they may in fact have harmful effects by being so easily absorbed through the skin.

“The only people who really have to be concerned about the chemicals in sunscreen are those with photoallergic dermatitis, which is basically an allergic reaction between the UVA rays and certain chemicals found in sunscreens. It may cause swelling, a burning sensation, and a red itchy rash,” says Dr. Slagel. “But it is nothing life-threatening.”

Sunscreen usage pays off: FACT

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90 percent of all skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays. Research shows applying sunscreen daily may reduce the risk of melanoma by 50 percent.

It doesn’t matter how you apply SPF, as long as you wear it: MYTH

Dr. Slagel says the benefits of wearing sunscreen far outweigh any potential risk and the biggest problem is the underuse of sunscreen. When applying sunscreen, he recommends following these tips:

  • Apply broad spectrum sunscreen daily

  • Look for at least SPF 50, especially if you live in the southeastern United States

  • Apply at least 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons per application for adequate coverage

  • Choose a formula that is easy to use and feels good on your skin (not oily or greasy)

  • Reapply every two hours

  • If using a spray, spray two coats in a crisscross pattern, holding the nozzle 4 to 6 inches from your body

More sunscreen options may be available soon: FACT

Dr. Slagel says there may be more sunscreen options headed our way. The FDA is under great pressure to approve a variety of new chemicals for sun protection. Today Europe and Canada have 27 different sunscreen chemicals on the market, while there are only 17 in the U.S. And the last chemical to be approved was back in 1999. So keep an eye out for new and improved products to hit the market in the near future.

Learn more about skin cancer prevention.

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