Is sunscreen use safe?

Dr.Omeed Ahadiat | August 29, 2022

Is sunscreen safe for everyday use? This topic can be very extensive and I’ve reviewed a lot of literature that I will attempt to summarize in a clear concise way. First let’s mention the established points that the majority of people in the field agree upon. There is strong evidence linking ultraviolet light exposure to SKIN CANCER formation and to PHOTOAGING of the skin. There is no denying these points. Now the stuff that becomes unclear in literature and still needs further studies to fully tease out is the safety of sunscreen use. The media has had it out for sunscreen for a long time but their credibility can be questionable at times. Let me summarize very briefly what we know. There are two main types of sunscreens: 1) there are mineral blockers, which theoretically sit on the surface of the skin and reflect UV rays off the skin. These are the ones that traditionally would be very thick, and chalky and not rub in well, although newer formulations have improved this. 2) And then there are chemical blockers, which get absorbed into our skin and theoretically stay there and absorb UV rays that enter the skin. This distinction is important when we start to analyze the data. And to be clear, both types of sunscreens have a strong association with preventing both photoaging and skin cancer.

Recent evidence has shown that CHEMICAL sunscreens do in fact get absorbed systemically by the skin. This means that levels of these chemicals have been identified in the bloodstream after topical use. No clear evidence has determined that these chemicals in our bloodstreams are harmful though. I want to make this part clear, there have been various studies attempting to determine if systemic absorption of chemical sunscreen ingredients are associated with harmful effects but no clear consensus has been reached and further studies are needed to establish this.

Now in regards to MINERAL blockers. Studies have shown that mineral blockers do not get absorbed beyond the uppermost layer of the skin. There have been recent concerns over nanoparticles used in mineral blockers causing potential health issues but nothing clear cut enough for me to comment on.

So this is where I break it down for you. We DO know that sunscreen decreases aging and risk for skin cancer. We DON’T know what effect sunscreens may have on us. Therefore weighing the risks and benefits, I personally think the benefits of wearing sunscreen outweighs the risks of not wearing them. That being said, if you are ultimately a person who worries about the unknown I think there are options we can consider. To start with, using mineral blockers can avoid the concern for systemic absorption. Wearing sun-protective clothing, wide-brim hats, UV films on car windows, avoiding sun during peak hours are all things we can incorporate into our day to day lives to decrease our dependence on sunscreen alone as our protection from UV rays.

Other issues with sunscreens such as the effect on the environment is a whole other topic we won’t get into today. This was a brief overview but I hope it was helpful for people with general questions regarding sunscreen.

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