WebMD BlogsHealthy Skin

Is Sunscreen Dangerous? A Dermatologist Weighs In

650x350_sunscreen
Brandith Irwin, MD - Blogs
By Brandith Irwin, MDBoard-certified dermatologistAugust 29, 2017

It’s becoming more and more difficult to figure out what to believe about anything – even something as basic as sunscreen. This is partly because companies, and some individuals, have figured out how to use the power of suggestion and incomplete (or false) information, to direct our thought patterns in favor of, or against, certain products.

Some news stories that popped up this summer might lead you to believe that there’s a troubling new safety concern with sunscreen. The stories were centered around a single study published in a lesser-known journal (Chemosphere). Journalists took partial truths from the study and amplified them into more partial truths. The echo effect! And voila – unfounded hysteria!

What the study really said was that one ingredient (avobenzone) in some sunscreens could, when exposed to chlorine and light in a swimming pool, convert into a small amount of toxic chemical (which would then be diluted in a very large swimming pool). Note that this was not tested in an actual swimming pool. It was tested in a lab under conditions – NOT at all like the real world.

So, how should you respond?

  • If you are swimming in a chlorinated pool, avoid the ingredient avobenzone for now, until we have better science.
  • Don’t drink quarts of pool water. Swallowing a little bit will not be an issue.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time licking your skin in a chlorinated pool. Not something most of us do anyway.

What you shouldn’t do is abandon sunscreens altogether. Why?

  • They help protect you from the deadliest form of skin cancer – melanoma
  • They help protect from the other types of skin cancer, basal cell, and squamous cell carcinomas
  • They keep your skin youthful, unwrinkled, and help prevent sagging
  • They prevent brown spots and blotchiness
  • They prevent precancerous spots (actinic keratosis)

All of the above is according to verified science, from a multitude of research.

The bottom line is, safety is an issue for all of us. Is it safe to cross the street or drive your car? Not completely.  But we accept these risks. Is it safe to eat food? Yes, but not all food (sugar, soft drinks, pesticide-treated veggies, fried foods – probably not so much). The degree of risk we take all depends on the way we think about risks in our environment for ourselves, and our families.

WebMD Blog
© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Brandith Irwin, MD

Brandith Irwin, MD, is a board certified dermatologist and founder of Madison Skin & Laser Center in Seattle, Washington. She is also Co-Founder of SkinTour.com a website focused on accurate consumer education on nonsurgical, aesthetic procedures and products. Through her books and website, Dr. Irwin is dedicated to educating people about skin care in the context of a global conversation about beauty, self-esteem and inclusiveness.

More from the Healthy Skin Blog

  • woman with itch on her back

    Why Am I So Itchy?

    Itch, scratch, itch, scratch – toss, turn – repeat. Itchy skin can be maddening - especially when it keeps you awake at night ...

  • woman looking at herself in mirror

    6 Signs You Need a New Skincare Routine

    When we hear the term “New Year,” many of us reflexively start pondering parts of our lives that may be due for a refresh. Could our ...

View all posts on Healthy Skin

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More