Controversies regarding sunscreens

This is in continuation the my “All About Sunscreens” post. There are a few controversies relating sunscreens that we are worth mentioning.

1. Does regular use of sunscreens causes deficiency of Vitamin D?

SUNLIGHT IS REQUIRED FOR OUR BODY TO PRODUCE VITAMIN D

Multiple studies have shown that consumers do not use the adequate recommended amount of sunscreen on a daily basis to prevent vitamin D synthesis in our body. Vitamin D can also be obtained from our diet and many fortified food products such as milk fortified with Vitamin D which can compensate for the lack of Vitamin D synthesis via sunlight.

UVB is responsible for Vitamin D synthesis. Adequate amount of Vitamin D can be produced in our body in just under 15 mins of sun exposure to the mid day sun. This process can take longer for darker skinned individuals since they have a natural protection against the sun. Regular daily use of even adequate amount of sunscreens does not lead to Vitamin D deficiency as there are always some parts of our body that are always left unprotected such as our feet or neck or even hands through which UVB can penetrate and initiate the process of vitamin D production in our skin. A recent study showed that:

Regular daily use of adequate amount of sunscreens with high SPF (SPF 50) even in Indian patients with (FST III ,IV) did not cause any vitamin D deficiency in these individuals.

2. Are chemicals used in sunscreens killing our coral reefs?

Few articles were published claiming that chemicals used in sunscreens were toxic to coral reefs and caused bleaching of the reefs. Based on these reports, many beaches in Hawaii and in Florida banned the public use of sunscreens at their beaches. This however was unjustified and potentially risky, exposing beach goers to the increase risks of sunburns and skin cancers.

Several other articles followed debunking this controversy. They highlighted that the earlier reports on the toxic effect of sunscreens on coral reefs were based on experimental studies in laboratories where the reefs placed in plastic bags and were exposed to higher amounts of the chemicals than that present in sunscreen products. This caused bleaching of the reefs. It was then pointed out that the results of these experiments did not translate to real life. The amount of chemicals dispersing from human’s skin into sea water was barely detectable. Since longterm,detailed, well studied scientific evidence regarding this claim is not available yet, banning sunscreens which could prevent skin cancers is unjustified.

It is more important to stress on the fact that rising water temperatures as a result of global warming is more responsible for destroying our coral reefs than sunscreens.

3. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed systemically (into our blood stream) at high concentration. Should we be concerned?

A study published in the Journal of American Association (JAMA) in May 2019 shed new light on the systemic absorption of topically applied sunscreens. The study concluded that active ingredients used in chemical sunscreens such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, ecamsule were all absorbed systemically (into the blood stream) after topical application at significant concentration ( >0.5 ng/ml). According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) any ingredient which is absorbed into the system at such concentrations needs further evaluation into the safety and significance of such ingredients in our body. It also means that manufacturers of over the counter sunscreens must produce scientific data on the absorption and safety profile of their sunscreens.

The study concluded that, consumers must not neglect the use of sunscreens that can prevent various types of skin cancers based on this results, since the presence of such chemicals in our blood does not necessarily mean they are toxic or harmful.

For those concerned about this can always opt for mineral (physical) sunscreens.

4. Sunscreens used by adults are not safe for kids?

The incidence of skin cancers are increasing over the years and a unprotected sun exposure during childhood further increases the risks of such cancers in adulthood. Therefore sun protection is especially valuable for children, as it not only decreases the chances of sunburns but also decreases the risks of skin cancers in adulthood.

Regular use of sunscreen during childhood has been estimated to reduce lifetime skin cancer risk by up to 80%

There is no actual difference between sunscreens marketed for adults and for children, nor is it more harmful for children to be using sunscreens formulated for adults. Children are known to have more delicate skin and can be sensitised to various components in the sunscreen products, therefore most sunscreens marketed exclusively for children have less components (fragrance and paraben free) and are mostly mineral based containing zinc or titanium oxide which does not result in sensitisation and allergic reactions.

It is important to note that, the FDA does not approve the use of sunscreens in children less than 6 months of age. Physical sun protection such as wide brim hats, using strollers with proper shade, long sleeves clothing and avoiding exposing babies to sunlight between 10-16:00 hours is the recommended sun protection measures for such age groups.

My personal advice is, if your child is not allergic to any components of the sunscreen and is above 6 months of age, there is no reason to buy a separate sunscreen marketed exclusively for kids.

If you have heard or more controversies regarding sunscreens and want me to discuss about it, drop in a comment below.