Given that it’s a holiday and all, and many of you people with real lives will be frolicking outside today, I decided to interrupt the poultry posts to bring you a public service announcement. About sunscreen. My friend Katherine with the perfect porcelain skin will be bored because she won’t need to read this, but pretty much all the rest of us, seared and scarred by our crimes in the sun, may benefit.
Maybe you saw the headlines the other day: “Sunscreens May Cause Cancer”. I certainly sat up a little straighter in my chair when I read it. I mostly eschewed sunscreen for decades, because my sensitive skin generally won’t tolerate the stuff. I’ll never forget the ski vacation where I dutifully slathered on the SPF 50 and my face swelled up like a pumpkin for three days. Turns out I’m allergic to PABA. And to most of the other ingredients in sunscreen, as well, since wearing it usually means my face goes a shade of red usually associated with second-degree burns.
But all that changed after my introduction to squamous cell cancer a few years ago. The resultant Frankenstein scar on my forehead reminds me each morning to apply sunscreen early and often. And thanks to my pal Bernadette, I finally found a sunscreen that my skin will tolerate. It costs a small fortune, but, then, so does dermatologic surgery, not to mention death.
But then the EWG (Environmental Working Group) comes along and ruins the beach party. The article I saw, from AOL News started like this: “Almost half of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer” .http://www.aolnews.com/health/article/study-many-sunscreens-may-be-accelerating-cancer/19488158 According to the EWG, there are only 39 sunscreens out there that won’t give you a side of cancer with your sun exposure. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside!
The main culprit is apparently vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate. According to the article, these ingredients may speed up the cancer that sunscreen is used to prevent. In yearlong study conducted by EWG scientists, “tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent faster in lab animals coated in a vitamin A-laced cream than animals treated with a vitamin-free cream.”
Turns out that the EWG prefers mineral-based sunscreens, like my beloved Nia24, but then throws a monkeywrench into the works, cautioning against “titanium dioxide that is made nanosized”,which, according to the AOL News article, “a growing number of researchers believe have serious health implications.” Health implications? That could suggest anything from a rash to sudden death, and I, for one, would have appreciated a little more detail, since my beloved Nia sunscreen has a 9% titanium dioxide content.
This struck fear into my soul and my wallet, as I just shelled out a hefty sum for two tubes of Nia24. So I decided to investigate. First stop, the Skin Cancer Foundation web site at http://www.skincancer.org/ . According to them, “Contrary to previous EWG reports, the EWG now states that there is no scientific data showing that the nanoparticle inorganic UV filters titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are harmful.” Huh? Hmmm. What to believe?
A lengthy web search turned up only a suggestion that the sub-microscopic particles might “cause possible inflammatory and immune responses in the human body”. And, indeed, after searching the EWG web site, the only complaint I could find regarding titanium dioxide has to do with nano-sized particles that could be deemed carcinogenic when inhaled. Given the litany of dangers we face every time we step outside our doors, I think I’m going to take my chances with nano-sized titanium dioxide.
In addition, the EWG study implies that if your sunscreen “goes on like white paint” you’re in the clear as far as the dangers of nano-sized particles. My Nia sunscreen contains no Vitamin A and goes on as white as Tom Sawyer’s fence, so, with any luck, it is worth it’s $35 price tag. If you’re interested, you can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/NIA24-Damage-Prevention-Mineral-Sunscreen/dp/B000N2ZYGU. The EWG has kindly published a list of sunscreens and their ratings which you can find here: http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/ Among their top-rated choices: Badger, California Baby, Thinkbaby and Thinksport.
In conclusion, the consensus seems to be that Vitamin A is bad, “chemical” sunscreens are bad, “mineral” sunscreens are good (with the inherent caution over nano-sized particles) and that European sunscreens containing Tinsorb are best. Just what I was looking for: a reason to go spend the summer on a beach in the south of France…