"Doc, Should I Still Wear Sunscreen?"

“Doc, Should I Still Wear Sunscreen?”

With all the media coverage over the past few months I feel my patients are left with more questions than answers when it comes to sunscreen. 

Let me try and break it down for you simply.

Recent Developments:

  1. In February the FDA issued a proposal recognizing only 2 out of 16 commercially available sunscreen ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide–as GRASE (generally recognized as safe and effective.)
  2. Many of the other ingredients commonly found in sunscreens were deemed to have insufficient safety data to be considered “GRASE.”
  3. In early May, the Journal of the American Medical Association released data from a small clinical trial which raised concerns regarding absorption and blood levels of four commonly applied sunscreen ingredients (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule.)
  4. The study showed under maximum use conditions (applying sunscreen over whole body and frequent reapplication) chemical blood levels of the above ingredients were higher than threshold levels previously set by the FDA.

What I’m telling my patients and loved ones:

  • There is a bounty of evidence that sunscreen use decreases sunburn, ultraviolet radiation exposure and development of skin cancer.
  • The sunscreen ingredients from the clinical trial (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule.)
    have been commercially available and used for decades with no convincing clinically relevant internal side effects in humans.


While I believe in the safety of the commercially available ingredients recent reports have at least made
me reconsider my degree of certainty.

If you want to hedge your bets and play it completely safe…

  • Utilize sunscreens with only zinc oxide and or titanium dioxide listed in the active ingredients.
  • Sun protective clothing offers the best overall protection and you don’t have to worry about reapplication.
  • Remember everything in moderation—we live in a beautiful area and I enjoy the outdoors as much as anyone—try to limit direct exposure during the peak sun hours of 10AM-2PM.

How do I protect myself?

I’m often asked by patients— “What do you do for sun protection and what do you do for your family?”

My answer: I tend to stick with zinc and/or titanium-based sunscreens; although if I’m going to be in the water I’m cognizant that these agents need frequent reapplication. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re swimming or sweating, the sunscreen is coming off after about an hour or so. I really stress sun protective shirts with long sleeves. I look for an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) value of 50. This way I only have to worry about applying sunscreen on my face, neck, hands and legs.

Stay tuned for the next monthly blog post.

Dr. Greg Barron, M.D

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