Starting with this week’s Melanoma Monday, skincare activists and sunscreen marketers are hoping this year’s annual Skin Care Awareness Month will continue to boost both sunscreen sales and life-saving awareness about the deadly disease.
The monthlong event is a brand bonanza, with promotions that range from Sephora’s partnership with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, offering a 12-product Sun Safety kit to raise money for research, to MoleSafeUSA’s clever digital spot-the-melanoma challenge.
But a major new medical study, just published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, finds that four common sunscreen ingredients (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule) enter the bloodstream in as little as one day, and should trigger further safety testing.
Calling the impact of these ingredients on infants and children “urgent,” both the research and JAMA’s accompanying editorial are quick to say this research doesn’t mean they are unsafe.
“However, the study findings raise many important questions about sunscreen and the process by which the sunscreen industry, clinicians, specialty organizations, and regulatory agencies evaluate the benefits and risks of this topical OTC medication,” JAMA writes. “First and foremost, it is essential to determine whether systemic absorption of sunscreen poses risks to human health.”
It calls for additional research and suggests people continue to follow clinical recommendations until more is known, citing pending changes in the way the Food & Drug Administration evaluates ingredients.
The FDA, which approved the research, says it is in the midst of a rule change, and that its policies need an update. In its statement, it says current rules were developed in the 1970s when sunscreen use was seasonal. Today, many people wear it daily year round, “with more active ingredients combined together in higher concentrations than were previously used.”
The American Academy of Dermatology, acknowledging consumers are likely to be confused by the research, is urging people to continue following sunscreen recommendations.
“Sunscreen — along with seeking shade and wearing protective clothing — plays a key role in protecting the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which can increase the risk of skin cancer,” the AAD says.
Some sunscreen ingredients have already been proven to be toxic for coral reefs.
Affecting 3.3 million people in the U.S. each year, melanoma is the most common malignancy, and the AAD says 20 people die from it each day.
Products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, physical rather than chemical sunscreens, have undergone more testing and considered to be safe.