It’s that sunny time of year where otherwise well-informed patients filter into dermatologists’ office, skeptical of the very sunscreen that may save their lives.
The Environmental Working Group yesterday released its annual sunscreen screed — a report that claims three-quarters of 750 products tested are either insufficiently safe or outright dangerous. Though many in the public don’t know the report by name, it’s raised enough concern about sunscreen that dermatologists frequently hear from frightened patients.
Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University, says the report is an annual frustration.
“I can talk to my patients about science, and [EWG] comes out with this kind of report, and my patients say, ‘Well, you say this, they say that, and I don’t know what’s right so I’ll do what I want,’ ” he says. “My concern is that they’re confusing the public and convincing them to change their behavior in a way that puts themselves more at risk for skin cancer later on.”
Skin cancer is a more common diagnosis than all the other types of cancer combined — and nine out of 10 non-melanoma skin cancers are linked to sun exposure, the Skin Cancer Foundation says. (The Foundation is also clear that sunscreen is completely safe.)
Rigel says EWG’s report doesn’t even rely on junk science. Rather, he compares it to a book report from a student who totally misinterprets the findings of one study.
For instance, take oxybenzone, which EWG claims is “the most worrisome [chemical]… added to nearly 70 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens” it examined. Rigel says EWG has repeatedly pointed to one study where scientists fed oxybenzone to lab rats, discovering that their uteruses grew.
One little caveat: “If you applied sunscreen to your face and your arms every single day, it would take 35 years to get the amount that rat did in one dose,” Rigel says.
Dr. Jessica Krant, a dermatologist at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York, has read previous EWG reports on sunscreen and noticed a trend. She says they look at one negative lab study and “make a lot of leaps without very rigorous scientific proof that these things are issues in humans.”
For example, she says, EWG has reported that some chemicals have affected cells in a petri dish — but there’s no evidence of the same reaction on healthy human skin.
Rigel says the EWG report essentially offers a hypothesis that the chemicals in sunscreen cause cancer and other health hazards. However, he says, that hypothesis has been tested on an enormous scale every weekend every summer, and will be tested once again this weekend.
“Tens of millions of Americans are using the sunscreen, and we’re not seeing what [EWG] predicted,” he says.
Krant adds: “I have yet to see definitive proof that sunscreens used on intact human skin have ever caused any problems. It’s much more important to protect the skin from skin cancer and aging than it is to avoid using sunscreen because of some of these unproven concerns.”
Nonetheless, the EWG report and other alarmists have stoked fears about sunscreen so much that some parents are crafting their own tinctures, including ones with coconut oil or shea butter. But with an SPF of just 6, they’re far less effective than normal commercially available sunscreen, putting users at a far greater risk of skin cancer.
Bottom line: Don’t be an idiot. You have far more to fear from skin cancer than sunscreen.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and Independent Women’s Forum.