For years, chemical sunscreens have come under scrutiny because of safety concerns. We’ve known for a long time that its ingredients can get into our bloodstream (more on that in a second), and these fears were heightened when Banana Boat voluntarily recalled three batches of its Hair & Scalp Spray SPF 30 on Friday , July. 29, after monitoring the amount of benzene, a known carcinogen that has been linked to leukemia at high exposure levels, was found in the product.
Although it sounds scary, it does not mean that chemical sunscreens are not safe. There’s a lot of (high science) stuff to unlock here, so let’s get to it.
How chemical sunscreens got their dubious reputation
Chemical sunscreens use inhibitors such as avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate and oxybenzone to absorb UV rays and turn them into heat. A small 2019 study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 24 participants found that when these ingredients sink into our skin, they also sink into our bloodstream at levels higher than the threshold the agency set in 2016. However, the FDA was quick to say “these results do not mean the ingredients are unsafe.”
So why all the drama? Part of the controversy surrounding chemical sunscreens goes back to the name. The word “chemical” is scary to some, even though many harmless ingredients, like water, are chemicals.
“‘Minerals’ and ‘chemicals’ are not a great way to divide because it gives so many confusing stories,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. Instead he prefers to use “organic” and “inorganic,” which sounds really bad (the main difference here is that organic compounds contain carbon while inorganic ones don’t).
What to know about the Banana Boat remember
Benzene, which was found in small amounts in Banana Boat products, is not one of these common chemical inhibitors. It is a carcinogen that is banned as an ingredient in products intended for home use, and is deliberately not included in SPF formulations.
“Benzene in high concentrations can cause leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood,” says Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Southern California. “It’s most easily absorbed by breathing it in, but it can also be absorbed by skin contact. So having it in sunscreen is a big deal, and even worse if it’s in a sunscreen that can be inhaled into your lungs.”
This is not the first time benzene has been found in sunscreens. Last summer, Johnson & Johnson recalled five sunscreens (four from Neutrogena, one from Aveeno) that were also found to contain benzene. The compound was not intentionally added to any of these sunscreens, but instead “was discovered as an impurity during the production process,” says Dr. Chi. “In the case of spraying the sun on the sun, it seems to be found in the propellant. ,” he adds. In other words, nobody put Benzene in the sun is something that can develop during production.
Following J&J’s news, a team of dermatologists examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2003 to 2006 and 2009 to 2018, and their study found that sunscreen use was not associated with increased blood levels of benzene among adults in the United States.
“Frequent sunscreen users were less likely to have elevated blood benzene levels compared to never users, suggesting that the risk of exposure to benzene from sunscreen use may be low, ” the newspaper reads. “It is possible that other factors may more strongly affect systemic benzene levels, including gasoline emissions, second-hand smoke, chemical products, and occupational exposures. Although quality control studies of sunscreen products important, addressing other sources of benzene may be more beneficial from a public health perspective.
Dr. Hirsch notes that benzene can be avoided in many ways.
“Benzene is an organic chemical compound widely used in industry. It has many industrial uses including the production of other chemicals involved in the production of plastics, resins, nylons, soaps and pharmaceuticals, among other things. It is also found in a number of foods naturally for small amounts and is also released naturally by forest fires, burning candles and volcanoes,” says Dr. Hirsch. can come from such filth.”
So while minimizing exposure to benzene is beneficial, chances are you’ll be fine if you’ve used one of Banana Boat’s contaminated sunscreens. However, according to the memo, the Food and Drug Administration recommends stopping the use of the following contaminated products:
According to a statement from Edgewell, the parent company of Banana Boat, although the brand is removing its contaminated shelves, it is not aware of anyone who has been harmed.
“To date, Edgewell has not received any adverse events related to this recall and we are conducting this recall out of an abundance of caution and are advising consumers to stop using the affected product immediately and dispose of it properly,” reads the Banana Boat website. The bottom line is that brands don’t want dangerous products on the market, that’s why they work with great caution, and why recalls (like this one) happen in the first place.
If you purchased any contaminated Banana Boat products, you are eligible for a refund and can find more information here.
Are chemical sunscreens safe?
If you’re still a little confused, know that this isn’t a chemical sunscreen: The bottom line among the recalled products from Banana Boat and J&J is that they were all aerosols that contained benzene during the manufacturing process. . And one thing to consider? Even if there it is benzene in other aerosol products on the market that have not yet been discovered, your levels may be so low that you will not be exposed to harmful levels.
“The reality is that modern life has some attraction to benzene and some things that are normal – Are you a factory worker where it’s used a lot as a solvent? Do you park a car in a garage? Do you put out a fire? All of this is examples where you may have more significant exposure than what is possible from impact pollution,” says Dr. Hirsch. “Sunscreen is a highly regulated product and is regulated as a drug here in the U.S. It is known to reduce the real and proven risks of UV rays.”
But if you want to be extra careful, your best bet is to avoid aerosol sunscreens.
“My feeling is that since we know that benzene is absorbed more easily by inhalation, it would be better to avoid sunscreens altogether,” says Dr. Chi. “If you want to be really safe, you can choose sunscreen sticks as they are a solid roof and therefore less likely to be contaminated with benzene. That’s what I use for my kids.” She also notes that cream and lotion SPFs are great options, and what she uses herself.
Shop three non-aerosol sunscreens below
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