Experts have told us for years to “slip, slop, slap” with the most important step in sun protection being to apply sunscreen. However, there is current scientific debate that the ingredients found in many leading sunscreens leave dangerously high levels of toxic compounds in our bloodstream after extensive sunscreen use leading us to ask the question Is Sunscreen Toxic?
This concern comes from a recent study conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia (CPCA) says there is definitely a need for more research regarding the effects of the application of sunscreen, they remind us to keep the FDA’s study in perspective. Dr Michael Molton, President of the CPCA, says in their press release, “The fact is, the human trial by the FDA was conducted under extreme laboratory conditions, with subjects applying sunscreen every two hours to 75% of the body for three days and not in the real ‘beach’ environment.” They also alert us to the fact that European studies performed in more ‘realistic’ circumstances do not support the FDA’s alarmist claims.
Australia has highest rate of skin cancer in the world
In a country like Australia where we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and a lifestyle that exposes us to harmful UV rays that cause cancer on a daily basis; not to mention the two in three Australians that will be diagnosed with a skin cancer by the age of 70 – it is important to know exactly what risks we’re exposing ourselves to if we apply sunscreen regularly. But it would be even more devastating and deadly to scare people into NOT using sunscreen based on one study of 48 people in extremely unrealistic circumstances.
Australia has an extremely active TGA who identify any tangible safety concerns for any products being sold in Australia, and it’s already a requirement for sunscreen bottles to list active ingredients so consumers can make educated choices. However, this makes the assumption that the average consumer reads the label, knows what particular ingredients are and what harm they may or may not do us? Our guess is that the majority of consumers do NOT know anything about most of the ingredients in sunscreens, even after reading them on the labels. Surely anything harmful shouldn’t even be made available on the Australian shelves? We know this is not always necessarily the case.
The CPCA press release also discusses the difference between certain sunscreens, chemical VS physical sunscreens, the type of radiation that causes sunburn, skin cancer and what causes the long-term photoageing damage. There is definitely a need for Australian consumers to educate themselves on what they’re using for sun protection. We bet many Australians don’t realise that only 10 minutes of sun exposure is recommended before covering up.
Which sunscreen is best?
CPCA suggest that most industry professionals prefer the use of micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The also recommend you consult with a skin specialist as opposed to a cosmetic counter when choosing the right sunscreen for you. While there are more and more organic and natural based sunscreens on the market, some are more effective than others and it comes down to the consumer doing their homework.
Can Smartphone Apps detect cancer?
In their press release, the CPCA also advise that healthcare professionals are concerned about the emergence of smartphone apps that claim they can detect suspicious skin lesions.
UK researchers have conducted a review of algorithm based smartphone applications that can apparently assess your risk of skin cancer. They discovered that the AI (artificial intelligence) used was unreliable and professionals are extremely concerned that these apps are providing information that mislead the consumer and could lead to a life or death scenario.
The two more popular apps, SkinScan and SkinVision, even have Conformit Europenne (CE) marks which allow them to be marketed across Europe and they are available in Australia and New Zealand. Dr Molton says it is essential to find a registered, experienced and qualified doctor with the training and skill required to identify what is and what is not a melanoma. “Relying on an algorithm within an app is the same as playing Russian roulette with your life,” he said.
We will continue to keep you informed of any findings of the CPCA and any other professional bodies regarding the use of sunscreen, however industry professionals recommend we continue to follow the advice promoted by the Australian Cancer Council since the 1980’s. Ultimately, it’s essential to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun with both physical barriers and making a conscious decision to avoid extended periods in the sun, particularly between the hours of 11am and 4pm.
Dr Molten reminds us that all skin types are at risk of skin cancer and regular skin checks should be routine with your GP.