Health Matters: What do we know about the Johnson & Johnson sunscreen recall?
Dr. Lipner: While this report raises concerns, it is important to keep in mind that this is just one report, and the claims need to be validated. The FDA regulates over-the-counter sunscreen products. We will know more once the FDA reviews this report and determines if the benzene levels detected actually exceed the FDA’s limits.
With these recent reports, would you still recommend people use sunscreen?
Yes. Sunscreen plays a key role in protecting our skin from the sun. As a dermatologist, I see the impact of sun overexposure every day in my office. It is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form. While we are awaiting information from the FDA on benzene levels, I advise my patients to seek shade; wear sun-protective clothing; and use non-spray, broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to exposed skin. That is the best way to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Can you explain what the FDA is doing to protect consumers when it comes to sunscreens?
The FDA issued a proposed rule that asks manufacturers to provide more data about the safety of several sunscreen ingredients. There are already two ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe and effective,” or GRASE, and those are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. But there are 12 other chemicals that need further evaluation in order to determine whether they can be classified as GRASE. The FDA is asking for more information, but certainly, based on the data we have now, they still recommend that we use sunscreen.
What are those 12 ingredients?
Those ingredients are cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, and avobenzone. The FDA is specifically looking at these ingredients in terms of absorption by the skin and the health risk of absorbed chemicals.
One of the ingredients, oxybenzone, has been rumored to be a hormone disruptor. Is this true?
Some studies have been done — mostly in vitro studies in rats — in which oxybenzone exhibited some estrogen activity. However, in these studies they used an extremely high concentration of oxybenzone, much higher than humans would get. Researchers estimated that it would take 277 years of daily application of a sunscreen containing 6% oxybenzone to obtain a comparable level of exposure in humans. There have been other studies as well. Oxybenzone was applied to the skin of human volunteers, and researchers saw that there were no biologically significant alterations in the reproductive hormones. So at this time there’s not enough evidence to claim that it’s a hormone disruptor. It has been used safely since 1978.