(Or... how to create a new generation of Agoraphobics!)
Well, don't panic yet. New data shows a possible link between sunscreen and skin cancer, but not a definitive one.
The article states that Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is asking the FDA to release data from studies on the possible relationship between the chemical retinyl palmitate and the development of Skin Cancer.
Retinyl Palmitate is an additive used in sunscreen and a number of other cosmetics. Retinyl is a vitamin A compound, and palmitate is palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid that is found in humans, animals and plants (Palm oil). It is easily absorbed by the skin, where it is converted to Retinol, another form of Vitamin A used in anti-aging cosmetics. (Links: What Is Retinyl Palmitate and Ester Wiki)
These studies appear to be at a beginning stage. According the Reuters article, data showed that tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent faster in lab animals coated in retinyl palmitate-laced cream than animals treated with a cream that did not contain RP.
If this is all of the evidence that has been obtained, this is currently a case for prevention-plus-further-study handling. It would be wise to cease or at least reduce the use of the chemical in cosmetics until further study can determine whether amounts used actually cause or speed the development of cancer.
One point against the idea that it does, however, is the fact that the chemical in question is vitamin A. Given that fact, and the fact that the substance it turns into once it is absorbed into the skin, Retinol, has been used since the '90s as an anti-aging cosmetic additive, it is entirely possible that there may be more to the relationship than simple cause and effect.
The Reuters article does not state the concentration of the chemical used in the test, either. This can make a difference in the results, and is another reason the issue warrants further study. Flawed tests using huge doses of elements normally only encountered in trace amounts have fooled the public in the past, both in favor of and against the use of substances, including cosmetics, foods, and supplements.
What does this mean for the general public?
Mostly, nothing... the same advice given prior to the availability of this information still holds true.
- Too much sun can be damaging and dangerous to the skin. It is best to limit sun exposure to the before and/or after the peak radiation hours surrounding noon.
- Not enough sun can deprive you of vitamin D. It is wise to spend approximately half an hour outdoors without sunscreen each day to allow the essential nutrient to be naturally manufactured by the body. Again, however, it is best to do so a few hours before or a few hours after noon.
- Sunscreen can be protective, but it does prevent all harmful rays from getting through. Its use does not guarantee that overexposure to sunlight will not cause damage, only that the skin will be better protected during that exposure than it would be without sunscreen. Protective, lightweight clothing is recommended during prolonged sun exposure, to avoid sunburn and other damaging effects.
- Sunscreen also does not last forever, and should be re-applied approximately every half hour during use.
Following proper sun safety precautions should greatly reduce the need for frequent, heavy use of sunscreen by most individuals.