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How To Know If Your Sunscreen Is Safe

Summer is here and for most of you the outdoors holds a lot of attractions —beaches, parks, pools etc., — but if you are health-conscious you do the smart thing and reach for your sunscreen before going out. After all, you want to protect your skin from sun damage and skin cancer. But before you lather that stuff on your face, you should check to see if your sunscreen is safe.

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

Sun damage and skin cancer are not the usual content of this blog, but this morning I received an email saying that certain brands of sunscreen have been recalled. Maybe you already got the news but if you haven’t here’s the gist of what caused the recall.

Why my sunscreen may have been recalled

According to CNN Health, popular sunscreen brands Neutrogena and Aveeno recently pulled their products off the shelves after independent testing found that they were contaminated with benzene and benzophenone, two cancer-causing agents. Since they are cancer-causing, they are definitely unsafe, yet according to Consumer Lab, they don’t appear on labels. So it’s not certain how they get there, but Consumer Lab believes they may be introduced during the manufacture of the product or through chemical reactions with the product itself.

What is benzene?

CNN Health gives this description of benzene from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Benzene is a natural component of crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke and ranks in the top 20 chemicals used for production of “lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides,” as well as “plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers.”

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states, “If you spill benzene on your skin, it may cause redness and sores. Benzene in your eyes may cause general irritation and damage to your cornea.” Benzene, which is linked to blood cancers was not only discovered in sunscreens, but independent testing found it in sprays, gels, lotions, and creams. You can be exposed to benzene through inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion and skin and/or eye contact.

What is benzophenone?

It will amaze you to know that benzophenone is banned in the United States, yet it is found in some sunscreens. According to Consumer Lab, benzophenone is a carcinogen and may be formed by the degradation of octocrylene, a common sunscreen ingredient. In addition, benzophenone was originally patented as a herbicide. Some people may have a photoallergic reaction to sunscreens containing octocrylene.

Which sunscreens were recalled?

CNN Health lists the following:

  • Neutrogena® Beach Defense® aerosol
  • Neutrogena® Cool Dry Sport aerosol
  • Neutrogena® Invisible Daily™ defense aerosol
  • Neutrogena® Ultra Sheer® aerosol
  • Aveeno® Protect + Refresh aerosol

CVS also stopped selling CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera and CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera Spray a day after the Johnson & Johnson recall was announced. If you have questions or to request a refund you can call 1-800-458-1673.

How safe is my sunscreen?

Because of the information above, you may be wondering whether you should stop using sunscreen altogether. Fortunately, the FDA has recognized two mineral compounds as being safe when used in sunscreens — they are titanium oxide and zinc oxide. They work by blocking ultraviolet radiation, while the chemical compounds named above absorb radiation. Consumer Lab warns that you should avoid sunscreens that mix mineral-based agents (titanium oxide or zinc oxide) with organic chemical ingredients, particularly avobenzone.

How can I protect myself?

Do not stop using sunscreen. Check your sunscreen label (I checked mine and it contains 10% octocrylene, so I’m throwing it out) and if it contains the carcinogens named above, then you know what to do. Also, exercise common sense by avoiding being in the sun during the hours when the sun’s rays are the most intense, i.e. between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00p.m. Wear a hat, sunglasses, shirt, and pants if you must be outdoors during those times. And apply safe sunscreen.

As always, the information given in this post is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Use due diligence or consult your medical practitioner before adopting any of the measures stated here.

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