Go get your sunscreen right now and turn it over. Read the ingredient list. Do you see “retinyl palmitate?” Most likely, you will, as it’s a form of vitamin A present in many sunscreens as an anti-aging boost.
Here’s the scoop. Earlier this year, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) confirmed the results of a study that showed that retinyl palmitate in sunscreens, when applied to the skin and exposed to the sun, speeds the development of skin tumors.
Let me give you some more details on this study:
- The NTP started their research on this in 2000-they’ve been looking into this for awhile.
- The NTP started studying retinyl palmitate in the first place because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had concerns about its potential sun-induced cancerous activity. Earlier research had shown that retinyl palmitate and other retinoids form free radicals and mutate DNA when exposed to UV rays.
- The study found that retinyl palmitate enhanced “photocarcinogencity” and the development of skin tumors.
How worried do we need to be about this study? You always have to take scientific results in context. So far this is only one study, and it was performed in animals, so we’re not sure yet if the results transfer to humans. It is concerning, however, especially when a major organization like the NTP supports the findings. Here are a few more details:
- The study was performed for 13 weeks, on 36 male and 36 female mice.
- The mice were exposed to creams with low percentages of retinyl palmitate, similar to those amounts found in currently available sunscreens. They were then exposed to light similar to natural sunlight.
- In both sexes, all mice that were exposed to retinyl palmitate, no matter the dose, experienced faster onset of skin lesions, and increased number of cancerous cells.
- After reviewing the study, the NTP felt that the evidence supports the idea that retinyl palmitate can be carcinogenic when applied to sun-exposed skin.
Here are my thoughts on this. First of all, this isn’t a new thing-the FDA has been concerned about this for awhile. Secondly, yes, it’s an animal study, but the reaction could be similar in humans. Finally, why take the chance? You can choose safe sunscreens without retinyl palmitate. In fact, after this study came out, several sunscreen manufacturers released vitamin A-free formulas. We need to protect the skin, but at the same time, we need to be sure that what we’re putting on the skin isn’t increasing our risk of skin problems or even skin cancer. The Environmental Working Group has put out a list of safe sunscreens, so you can find some good choices there. Go check them out, and take the safe route to skin protection.
Have you changed your sunscreens as a result of this study? Please share your thoughts.
Photo courtesy the aearlsnd via Flickr.com.