Watch Out For That Sun

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide help prevent skin cancer

May 31, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Skin cancer can easily be prevented by applying sunscreen. But the problem is, there are so many kinds of sunscreen out there! How do you decide which is best?

Ever since sunscreen hit the market, skin cancer deaths have been markedly lower. Dermatologists recommend daily use of sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, but researchers have found that different ingredients in some sunscreen products may be toxic.

"Read sunscreen labels to learn about the chemicals before buying."

Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases rankings for a list of the most effective sunscreens, and every year they warn against a large number of them. The bulk of sunscreens are not able to adequately protect against the most dangerous rays - ultraviolet A (UVA), which are associated with skin cancer and wrinkles.

Nneka Leiba, a research analyst from EWG, says "The FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] has been so lax in finalizing sunscreen safety rules, companies are getting away with producing products that don't protect people and have toxic chemicals."

Some sunscreens contain retinyl palmitate, a chemical that may in fact increase risk for skin cancer and cause birth defects. Another chemical that may be hazardous in oxybenzone, which is a hormone-disrupting chemical.

This information is a bit scary, but the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) emphasizes that all ingredients in sunscreen are safe. Dr. Ronald L. Moy, President of the AAD says "To reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging, dermatologists continue to recommend generously applying a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen; that protects against both types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB); with an SPF 30 or higher."

Of course, many of the ingredients in sunscreen are safe. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide physically block the sun's rays and also add thickness to creams. These chemicals are safe and are able to effectively protect against UV rays.

Dr. Emmy Graber, a dermatologist from Boston Medical Center, agrees with Dr. Moy. She only suggests otherwise if patients "develop skin allergies to products with chemical blockers like oxybenzone."

The best way to protect your skin from the sun is to use a "shot-glass-size" amount of sunscreen every time you apply it; reapply every 2 hours while you're in the sun and after swimming.

Protective sun wear is also recommended to protect against the sun during the strongest hours of the day - between 10 am and 4 pm.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 27, 2011
Last Updated:
May 31, 2011