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Post-Summer Skin Care

  Simple outdoor activities or a day at the beach now seem fraught with danger. Slathering sunscreen over every exposed patch of skin was believed to counteract the sun’s damaging rays, but a new and controversial study says some sunscreens contain an ingredient that may speed the development of skin tumors.
   The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group recently released a study determining that the majority of beach and sport sunscreen products are harmful to the skin and body and could possibly cause cancer. In fact, EWG only recommends 8% of beach and sport sunscreen products.
   The EWG study states that applying retinyl palmitate, a derivative of Vitamin A, in the sun is what may speed the development of skin tumors. It is important to note, however, that other products with Vitamin A, such as anti-aging creams and night creams, are not considered harmful. The study is specifically cautioning against a combination of the sun and the use of retinyl palmitate over a period of time.
  “Though the data from our study is not final,” said Leeann Brown, a spokesperson for EWG, “there is enough data, information, and studies supporting it that we feel the need to inform consumers.” A surge in SPF claims as well as advancements in science made it possible to recognized harmful ingredients in sunscreen products.
  The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) responded to EWG’s study with a public response posted on their website, stating: “After reviewing the recently released report from the Environmental Working Group, the Skin Cancer’s Foundation’s Photobiology Committee, a group of renowned experts in the study of the interaction of ultraviolet radiation on the skin, have come to the conclusion that there is no scientific evidence…that supports the relationship between the use of sunscreen and an increased risk of skin cancer.”
   EWG maintains that SCF gives its logo of approval to hundreds of sun protection products. The company just needs to provide results of tests for SPF, skin reactions and water and sweat resistance… and pay a $10,000 donation to join the Foundation’s “Corporate  Council” to have their products approved.

Where is the FDA?
  “Consumers assume that sunscreens are regulated,” said EWG’s Brown. “That’s actually not the case. Sunscreen regulations have been 33 years in the making and they still aren’t finalized.”
  It’s true. The Federal Drug Administration has been working on sunscreen regulations since 1978 and has yet to put any into effect. This means that sunscreen companies are not legally required to back-up their advertising claims.
   So the waterproof sunblock you purchased may not be waterproof and the SPF factor may not be as protective as you think. Though the FDA did release final regulations in 1999, they were never put into effect and the consumers were left to fend for themselves.
  Part of the reason could be a clash of titan sunscreen lobbyists. The two UVA tests mentioned in the 2007 draft guidelines are known as the “sunscreen monograph.”  There is a lot at stake for major corporations like Johnson and Johnson, Schering Plough and Proctor and Gamble. They will lobby
for which test gives their products the
  The FDA is working to end the confusion and plans to publish final sunscreen regulations in October of this year. The regulations would take effect a year after publication.
  We’ll see if it happens.

What about Vitamin D?
  Up to three quarters of the American population has a vitamin D deficiency. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, leaving many people confused about how to get enough vitamin D.
  The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends 10 to 15 minutes of direct sun without sunscreen several times a week.
  The American Academy of Dermatology’s Position (AAD) Statement says “there is no scientifically validated safe threshold level of UV exposure from the sun that allows for maximal vitamin D synthesis without increasing cancer risk.” The AAD recommends foods naturally-rich in vitamin D, vitamin D-fortified foods and vitamin D supplements.

Sun Safety Tips
  The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) strongly advocates for the use of sunscreen despite the current controversy. The ASDS suggests the following:
•  Use sunscreen and lip balm with SPF daily.
•  Avoid sun exposure during periods of high intensity from 10:00 to 4:00 p.m.
•  Wear hats with a full wide brim to protect neck, face and scalp.
•  Get any unusual spots on your skin checked out immediately.

   In the meantime, the EWG advises using sunscreen lotions instead of sprays or powders. The EWG also suggests looking for a sunscreen labeled as broad-spectrum protection. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta recommends getting a lower SPF sunscreen and applying it regularly throughout the day to protect skin from damaging sun rays. This technique is more successful than getting a sunscreen with a higher SPF and applying it once.

Published: August 08, 2010
Issue: Fall 2010 Issue