I’m worried about sunscreen use for my family given the recent recalls. How do I know what is safe?
July’s FDA recall of Johnson & Johnson’s sunscreen brands Neutrogena and Aveeno for the presence of benzene — a potentially harmful and cancer-causing chemical — is raising concerns about sunscreen. While the recall is unsettling, it’s important to remember that sunscreen is still safe and absolutely essential for protecting kids’ skin against harmful UV rays. Skin cancer incidents in children and adolescents have increased in recent years, which is largely preventable. Most sunscreens offer safe, active ingredients to help us stay protected in the sun.
The aerosol sunscreen products below were recalled by the FDA due to low levels of benzene being detected. If you have these, stop using these formulas immediately and safely dispose of them:
- Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen
- Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen
- Neutrogena Invisible Daily defense aerosol sunscreen
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen
- Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen
Another product currently under the microscope for higher concentrations of benzene is Sun Bum Cool Down gel. Benzene is NOT a standard ingredient for sunscreen, cosmetics or any product that comes into direct and intentional contact with humans.
Despite these recent scares, sunscreen is still important. No matter the skin type, sunscreen and some form of sun protection such as hats, sunglasses, umbrellas and/or clothing — preferably with sun protection factor (SPF) built in — are very important for kids and young people. Getting a sunburn has long been considered a part of growing up, but it’s something we should all strive to avoid for ourselves and our children as it can lead to harmful health outcomes later in life.
Sunburns early in life have been linked to a higher risk of skin cancer in kids and adolescents. Protecting your skin from sun overexposure can reduce the risk of skin cancer occurring. Sunburn is the immediate, visible evidence of skin damage, but invisible damage also happens, and it happens in all skin types.
What sun rays are the most harmful to the skin?
- UVA — These rays trigger skin aging and skin cancers like melanoma.
- UVB — These rays cause sunburn, cataracts and can contribute to skin cancer.
When shopping for sunscreen, what elements should be on the label of the brand you buy?
- Broad spectrum — This helps protect against UVA and UVB sun rays.
- Water-resistant — There is no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen formulas. Instead, they are labeled “water resistant” for 40 to 80 minutes, so be sure to reapply often, especially after swimming or sweating.
- SPF — This should be 30 or higher.
- Note expiration date — If your sunscreen changes color or consistency, discard it and get a new bottle.
Make sure your sunscreen includes:
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
Applying and reapplying:
- Put on sunscreen to all exposed skin at least 30 minutes before going outside.
- Reapply every two hours, and I’ll say it again, especially after swimming or sweating.
- Reapply sunscreen when you’re outside in sunny — and cloudy — weather. Despite popular belief, sun rays can break through the clouds and damage skin just as easily, if not more than, a bright, sunny day.
If you have more questions or concerns about sunscreen, check out spotskincancer.org.
Misagh Karimi, MD, is a medical oncologist and director of Clinical Operations at City of Hope Newport Beach.