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Dear Dr. Christina
PM Pediatrics

Spotlight on:

Is sunscreen dangerous?

By Dr. Eric Weinberg, PM Pediatrics of Spring Valley

“I heard sunscreen can be dangerous, is that true?”

We hear this question a lot, and the answer is simple – it is much safer to put on sunscreen than it is to leave it off.

Rates of certain types of skin cancer increased 80 percent from 1973-2003, and the great majority of this increase is due to sun exposure. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Dermatology, FDA, and the CDC ALL strongly recommend sunscreen application for children exposed to sun. There are numerous well-designed studies that show a strong benefit of sunscreen in preventing skin cancer.

QUESTION: “But what about the chemicals in sunscreen – aren’t they bad for my child?”
ANSWER: The products found in sunscreen have been well studied, and are safe to use in humans in the levels found in sunscreen. Most of these products are completely harmless – especially zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are commonly found in “physical” or “chemical free” sunscreens, and work by forming a physical barrier between the skin and the sun. Some dermatologists recommend exclusively using these products for young children.

There are also chemical-based sunscreens, containing ingredients like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate that have recently come under fire for being “dangerous”. Some organizations have claimed that oxybenzone can have estrogen-like effects and that retinyl palmitate can cause skin cancer. Those conclusions are based on flawed studies – for example, using levels of oxybenzone many times higher than the amount that is found in sunscreen. There are many more well-designed studies in humans that have found these chemicals to be safe.

QUESTION: Which sunscreen should I use?
ANSWER: The CDC and FDA recommend applying sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The decision to use “physical”, “natural”, or “chemical free” sunscreen is a personal decision, taking into account that these sunscreens are often significantly more expensive.

QUESTION: What if my child has a sunburn?
ANSWER: Most sunburns will get better with basic treatments – Ibuprofen for pain, topical pain relievers, and avoiding the sun for a couple of days. In rare circumstances, sun exposure can lead to second degree burns with severe blistering. If this occurs, you can consult your physician or come to PM Pediatrics for a medical evaluation.

QUESTION: What is the best way to prevent skin cancer?
ANSWER: Sunscreen absolutely decreases the risk of skin cancer, but there are other effective techniques that you should also use. Avoid the sun when it’s strongest (10am-4pm), wear wide brimmed hats and long sleeve breathable shirts, avoid direct sunlight, and apply sunscreen frequently every 2 hours or after bathing. (Adapted from AAP, CDC, FDA, and Academy of Dermatology Sunscreen policies, as well as http://healthydebate.ca/2015/08/topic/is-sunscreen-safe)