Sunscreen Criticisms Unfounded


The Skin Cancer Foundation dispels concerns about sunscreen

New York, NY (July 15, 2010) - Recent attacks on sunscreens by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the media miss the point that sunscreen continues to be one of the safest and most effective sun protection methods available. Since its inception in 1979, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen which includes seeking shade, covering up with clothing including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses and avoiding tanning and UV tanning booths.

"We are concerned that the criticisms will raise unnecessary fears and cause people to stop using sunscreen, doing their skin serious harm," said Dr. Warwick Morison, MD, chairman of The Skin Cancer Foundation's Photobiology Committee and Professor of Dermatology at John Hopkins University. "The EWG has their own system for evaluating things which is nothing more than junk science."

Below Dr. Morison responds to the criticisms and explains why sunscreen remains an essential part of anyone's daily sun safety program.

Sunscreen causes melanoma

Systematic review of all studies from 1966 to 2003 shows no evidence to support the relationship between sunscreen use and increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Actually, some important epidemiological research has indicated that population groups using sunscreen have reduced their melanoma incidence.

Sunscreen labels are misleading

Since both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (UVA and UVB) are harmful, you need protection from both kinds of rays. "Broad-spectrum protection" and "multi-spectrum protection" mean only that a sunscreen offers protection against parts of both the UVA and UVB spectrum. It does not mean complete protection. Because there is no consensus on how much protection the terms indicate, they may not be entirely meaningful. SPF - sun protection factor - refers specifically to how much protection is offered against UVB rays, but to date in the US, there is no equivalent measurement to represent the degree of UVA protection in a sunscreen. Nonetheless, UVA protection in sunscreen has greatly improved in recent years.

For effective UVA as well as UVB coverage, look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, plus some combination of the following UVA-screening ingredients: stabilized avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. MexorylTM), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and/or zinc oxide.

For everyday use, an SPF of 15 or higher is generally adequate, while SPFs of 30 or higher are appropriate for active, extended outdoor activity. An SPF 15 sunscreen screens out 93 percent of the sun's UVB rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97 percent and SPF 50 against 98 percent. The Skin Cancer Foundation agrees that in most cases, SPFs beyond 50 are unnecessary.

Sunscreen blocks vitamin D

While solar UVB is one source of vitamin D, the benefits of exposure to UVB cannot be separated from the harmful effects of sun exposure: skin cancer, cataracts, immune system suppression, premature aging. And excessive exposure to the sun actually depletes our body's supply of vitamin D. The safest way to obtain vitamin D is through a combination of diet and vitamin D supplements. The Foundation recommends increasing your intake of vitamin D to 1,000 mg. daily.

Oxybenzone may be a carcinogen

Old research on rodents suggested that oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen, can penetrate the skin, may cause allergic reactions, and may disrupt the body's hormones, producing harmful free radicals that may contribute to melanoma. However, there has never been any evidence that oxybenzone, which has been available for 20 years, has any adverse health effect in humans. The ingredient is FDA-approved for human use based on exhaustive review. The Foundation's volunteer Photobiology Committee reviewed the studies on oxybenzone and found no basis for concern.

Retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A) causes skin cancer

The Environmental Working Group cites an FDA study for this data, and faults the FDA for not releasing the study. However, the FDA is yet to release the study precisely because it has not gone through proper peer review. Thus, the EWG based its criticisms on an unapproved 10-year-old study of mice that has never been published in any journal. To date, there is no scientific evidence that vitamin A is a carcinogen in humans. What's more, only trace amounts of retinyl palmitate appear in sunscreens, and some evidence suggests that it is actually protective against cancer.

Consumers should rest assured that sunscreen products are safe and effective when used as directed, and should be considered a vital part of a comprehensive sun protection program that includes the following sun safety strategies:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn.
  • Wear a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher every day.
  • Apply 1 oz. (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin from head to toe once every month.
  • See your doctor every year for a professional skin exam.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning salons.

About The Skin Cancer Foundation

The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. For more information, visit,