Month: April 2017

Is your sunscreen safe ?

March 2017 Health Letter
by Yuliya Klopouh, Pharm.D –

As summer slowly rolls out, we’ll soon be finding ourselves enjoying warm ocean breeze or relaxing at the neighborhood pool.  Wherever we are during those hot and steamy summer days, we must use sun protection to avoid harmful and damaging Ultra Violet (UV) Rays.

Each year in the U.S. over 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people.1The incidence of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of the disease, is escalating. Effective sunscreens are crucial to use in children and adults.  But Environmental Working Group (EWG’s) investigation reveals that they may be hard to find.

Each year EWG releases reports on their guide to sunscreens.  As EWG reports,

“After 34-year process of reviewing sunscreen safety and efficacy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has implemented enforceable rules on sunscreen marketing and UVA protection. The FDA allows American sunscreen makers to claim their products are “broad spectrum,” even though many offer much poorer UVA protection than sunscreens sold in other countries. Based on the products in our 2016 database, EWG estimates that about half of all beach and sport sunscreens could not be sold in Europe because they provide inadequate UVA protection. Manufacturers there voluntarily comply with a European Commission recommendation that all sunscreens provide meaningful UVA protection in relation to SPF. FDA rules do not bar products with sky-high SPFs that prevent sunburn but leave users at risk of UVA-related skin damage.”2

Does your sunscreen work?  Is it safe for your and your child’s health?

Astoundingly, 2 of 5 brand-name sunscreens (brands including Neutrogena, Rite Aid, Target) either don’t protect skin from sun damage, contain hazardous chemicals, or both.
Here are some disconcerting statistics:

74 sunscreens with SPFs from 55-100+ might tempt you to stay out longer in the sun, but they block just 1-2% more sunburn rays than an SPF 30 sunscreen.

Hundreds of all-day moisturizers advertise SPF protection, but 1 in 5 offers little protection from harmful UVA rays.   Most sunscreens protect from UVB, or sunburn radiation. Higher SPFs indicate more protection. Far fewer brands contain ingredients that block UVA radiation, even though a growing number of studies show it is even more harmful than UVB radiation. UVA radiation hastens the progression of skin cancer, suppresses the immune system, and ages the skin over time.

Despite the increased use of UVA filters, 1 in 11 products confers dangerously low levels of UVA protection.  FDA does not require that sunscreens guard against UVA radiation.

Some sunscreens break down well before the day’s end. Nearly 40% of products on the market contain ingredients that may be unstable alone or in combination, raising questions about whether these products last as long as the label says. FDA has not proposed requirements for sunscreen stability.

Questionable product claims are widespread. Many products on the market carry claims that are considered “unacceptable” or misleading under FDA’s draft sunscreen safety standards. Claims like “all day protection,” “mild as water,” and “blocks all harmful rays” are not true, yet are found on bottles.   The analysis of products performed by the EWG showed that about 38% of sunscreens were labeled with one or more terms that FDA has said are indicative of a misbranded product, terms that are “unacceptable,” or terms that could “mislead consumers by inducing a false sense of security”.  These include “chemical-free,” “non-chemical,” “help prevent skin damage,” as well as terms like “sunblock,” “reflects,” “shields,” “protects,” “filters,” “screens,” “sun’s rays,” “sun’s harmful rays,” and all SPF designations greater than 50.

Until FDA sets an effective date for these standards, industry is free to use hyped claims.

Some sunscreens absorb into the blood and raise safety concerns. The review of the literature shows that some sunscreen ingredients absorb into the blood, and some are linked to toxic effects. Some release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight, some could disrupt hormone systems, several are strongly linked to allergic reactions, and others may build up in the body or the environment. FDA has not established rigorous safety standards for sunscreen ingredients that fully examines these effects.

Here is a GUIDE to Safe Use of Sunscreens:

1) Read the Label!
2)  Sunblock should contain at least 7% of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for broad spectrum protection.
3)  Purchase new sunscreen every year
4) Wear Reputable SPF Lip Balm- Lip cancer is most common on the bottom lip where sun exposure is most direct. Two out of 5 lip balms with SPF offer poor UVA protection.  Make sure you use the right one.
5) Avoid Oxybenzone or Benzophenone-3.  These harmful ingredients cause skin irritation, allergies, and hormone problems.

6) Avoid spray and powder sunscreens: inhaling sunscreens can pose extra risks and cause toxicities
7) Avoid Fragrance.  It can cause allergies, reproductive problems, eczema, and dermatitis.
8)  Do not use sunscreen with added bug repellent since you can get excessive amount of pesticide in your body.  Apply repellant at least 15 minutes after sunscreen to cut down on the pesticide soaking through the skin.

9)  Assure protection against both: UVA and UVB Rays:  Remember, SPF only protects against UVB rays, which are the rays within the ultraviolet spectrum that allow your body to produce vitamin D in your skin. However, the most destructive and damaging rays are the UVA rays.  They cause skin damage and cancer.  Therefore, it is paramount to have a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays.

In summary, only several sunscreens live up to their advertising claims, and the federal government is powerless to control them. Obtain your sun blocking agents from the Health Provider who can assure you of the quality and safety of the product.

Don’t forget to enjoy the sun!  It’s a powerful source of Vitamin D!  Apply safe sunscreen if you are spending most of your day outside and on the sensitive areas of your face.  However, applying sunscreen every time you are out in the sun will block the production of so much needed vitamin D (sunshine hormone, as it’s also referred to).  Research had demonstrated on multiple occasions that optimal levels of vitamin D are protective against many types of cancer, including pancreatic, breast, ovarian, skin, and lung cancers.

Be an EDUCATED consumer!  Protect yourself and your loved ones.

Stay Healthy,

Dr. Yuliya Klopouh


  1. Rogers HW, Weinstock MA, Feldman SR, Coldiron BM. Incidence estimate of nonmelanoma skin cancer (keratinocyte carcinomas) in the US population, 2012. JAMA Dermatol 2015; 151(10):1081-1086.
  2. Environmental Working Group May 2016