sunscreens and vitamin A for cancer prevention

Many questions are arising due to the recent release of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2010 sunscreen guide in which they advise against using sunscreen containing either retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) or oxybenzone.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

In this release, they only recommend 39 of the 500 sunscreens currently on the market. Although they may have the best intentions, by misinterpreting and misunderstanding research, the EWG has unfortunately raised unjustified and unnecessary fears in consumers regarding sunscreen use. Further, they have erroneously suggested that retinyl palmitate may trigger skin cancer.

We can all feel confident that both oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate are safe:

  • Oxybenzone has been tested extensively, and has been determined to be safe and effective by the scientific and regulatory bodies of the European Union, Canada and the United States.
  • Retinyl palmitate and the entire vitamin A family of ingredients (retinoids) have long been proven to prevent skin cancers.
    • There are numerous scientific papers (citations available through PCA SKIN), as well as clinical experience to support the safety of the retinoid family of ingredients, including retinyl palmitate. ¬†In fact, retinoids have been used for decades by dermatologists for the patients that are most at risk for skin cancers because of their ability to prevent and reduce the number of actinic keratosis (pre-skin cancers) and skin cancers.
    • The National Toxicology Program (NTP) study, cited by the EWG, did not look at sunscreens. This study was only evaluating the relationship between retinyl palmitate and UV exposure. This is a critical fact because the addition of sunscreen, combined with the retinyl palmitate, would limit any cancer induction by UV rays. Even if the EWG assertion that vitamin A induces skin cancer was correct, which the majority of research does not support, a sunscreen component added to vitamin A would inhibit the UV rays, therefore inhibiting cancer.
    • There are human studies showing that both retinoids and sunscreens prevent pre-skin cancers and skin cancers. It does not seem logical to therefore suggest that when used together that they would trigger skin cancers.

Educating patients on the critical importance of sunscreen use is not always easy. Any distractions that create even the slightest worry or fear thwarts all our efforts to keep our patients healthy. We hope that this misinterpretation of incomplete data does not put the public in any danger.

For more information about the studies supporting the safety and efficacy of retinyl palmitate and sunscreens, feel free to contact us at 877.PCA.SKIN [722.7546].


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