Help Balance Competing Concerns About Sunscreens

You'll get questions about sunscreen safety...spurred by Hawaii's move to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate starting in 2021.

These ingredients are found in many sunscreen products...and they're linked to damaging or bleaching sea coral and altering sex hormones of ocean wildlife. But this isn't proven yet.

Reassure that FDA still says these are safe for people.

Remind patients that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. and daily sunscreen is an effective tool to reduce this risk.

Help sort through the options and balance competing concerns.

Chemical sunscreens usually include combos of ingredients...avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, oxybenzone, etc.

They're the most common products...and easiest to apply.

Physical or "mineral" sunscreens contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They're not linked to environmental or hormonal problems.

Physical sunscreens can be thick and harder to apply. Nanoparticle forms may rub in easier. But if patients ask about "non-nano" products because of absorption concerns, explain that none of the physical sunscreens seem to be absorbed topically...even nanoparticle forms.

Point out that both chemical and physical sunscreens are effective.

Focus on finding a product the patient likes and will use properly.

If patients have environmental concerns, suggest a physical sunscreen (Neutrogena Sheer Zinc, etc)...or a chemical sunscreen without oxybenzone or octinoxate (Coppertone Sport Lotion, etc).

Recommend a sunscreen labeled "broad spectrum" to protect against both UVA and UVB rays...and an SPF of 15 to 30 or higher.

Explain SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays...SPF 30 about 97%... SPF 50 about 98%. Advise reapplying every 2 hours regardless of SPF.

Caution patients not to rely on ORAL "sunscreen" supplements...Sunsafe Rx, Heliocare, etc. These can't replace a topical sunscreen.

Use our chart, Shedding Light on Questions About Sunscreens, for answers about expiration dates, water resistance, and sun safety measures. And share our patient education handout, Staying Safe in the Sun.

Key References

  • J Cosmet Dermatol 2018;17(1):15-9
  • JAMA 2018;319(11):1134-42
  • Aust Fam Physician 2016;45(6):397-9
Pharmacist's Letter. Jul 2018, No. 340701



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