The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released their annual report on sunscreen, calling most products “modern day snake oil”. We’ve had several comments and inquiries about some of the statements the EWG made in their report and I’m definitely compelled to clarify the Vitamin A concern.
I’ll be frank and to-the-point. This is an irresponsible, inaccurate load of crap and it’s a shame it’s getting the attention it does. Their claim is based on a test that was carried out by the FDA’s National Toxicology Program. This test was looking at how UV affects a commonly used form of Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) and the result it has on the skin. The test had nothing to do with sunscreen, nor was sunscreen even used in the testing. Retinyl palmitate was spread on the backs of shaved mice, then they were exposed to levels of UV equivalent to 9 minutes a day of ‘intense’ sun for one year. Mice with the retinyl in the cream grew neoplastic lesions (abnormal skin cells) 21 percent faster than those with a control cream not containing retinyl. Keep in mind that a neoplastic lesion can be benign, malignant, or pre-malignant. So it is unclear how many of the lesions actually became cancerous. The study was preliminary and without peer review. Using this data and applying it to sunscreens is simply nonsense. Let’s also keep in mind that, compared to humans, mice have very little melanin in their skin. Mice have a coat of hair that protects them from UV. Taking this primary defense from them and exposing their highly sensitive skin to direct UV radiation is not even a relevant reproduction of how human skin would respond under the same conditions. Let’s get real, people!
Here’s another example to illustrate how silly their claim is…..
SolarAegis contains Rose Hips oil which has naturally occurring Vitamin A. Vitamin A is absorbed by the skin and is an anti-oxidant. SolarAegis also uses zinc oxide as an active ingredient. Zinc oxide sits on top of the skin and reflects UVA and UVB radiation so it is not able to penetrate the skin. Given that zinc oxide reflects UVA/UVB and Vitamin A is absorbed, the in-vitro scenario in the FDA test could not realistically ever occur in a real-life human experience because the UV would never reach the Vitamin A below the skin to cause any adverse effects.
The EWG gives you part of the picture and allows consumers to draw sometimes inaccurate conclusions. My complaint, in this case, is that consumers could be persuaded to not use any sunscreen and there are few dermatologists that would ever recommend going this route. Use sunscreen and protect yourself. There is zero evidence that sunscreen with small amounts of Vitamin A are going to increase your risk of skin cancer.
In closing it’s interesting to point out that the EWG was started, and currently run, by a former lobbyist. It is clearly obvious, with a closer look, that the efforts of the EWG are rooted in money, politics and corporate agenda. It’s always worth reading between the lines….