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Pete Evans is once again claiming sunscreen is "dangerous". Let’s break down the facts.

Pete Evans is super chuffed this week. See, the TV-famous chef seems to think he’s been vindicated by a study conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration that confirmed chemicals in sunscreen can enter the bloodstream.

Sharing a (scarily inaccurate) headline about the study on Instagram, the My Kitchen Rules host wrote, “Approximately four years ago I stated that most sunscreens were dangerous and the mainstream media went on a witch hunt to ridicule me, even though I said [my family] use non-toxic sunscreen”.

The problem is that Evans — who is notorious for spouting false health claims — has presented a misleading interpretation of the study’s findings.

Watch: Safety in the sun.

Video by Mamamia

Experts in relevant fields including pharmacology, toxicology, dermatology and even the FDA itself are stressing that, despite the hysteria being perpetuated online, the study is not, in fact, evidence that ingredients in sunscreen are “toxic” or unsafe.

Let’s take a closer look.

What was the FDA sunscreen study testing?

Put simply, whether six active ingredients widely used in sunscreen  — avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate — can be absorbed through the skin into the body.

The study saw 48 healthy Americans apply commercially available sunscreens in four forms: lotion, aerosol spray, non-aerosol spray and pump spray.

They applied the products over the course of 21 days.

What did the study find?

All six tested active ingredients administered in the four different sunscreen formulations were absorbed and the quantities found in blood surpassed the FDA threshold that would have saved them from further safety studies.

Given the results, the study authors called for further industry testing to determine “the safety and effect of systemic exposure of sunscreen ingredients, especially with chronic use”.

So, wait. Do the results mean that sunscreen is “toxic” or unsafe?

No.

In a statement, Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, stressed the following:

“The fact that an ingredient is absorbed through the skin and into the body does not mean that the ingredient is unsafe, nor does the FDA seeking further information indicate such.”

To break it down…

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The study does: Build on existing work that demonstrates that the skin is an imperfect barrier.

Professor Ian Rae, an expert on chemicals in the environment at the School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne, explained further.

“We know that chemical substances can be absorbed through the skin. It’s a phenomenon that we take advantage of when applying nicotine patches, or aspirin-like medications (‘liniment’) that can ease aching muscles,” he said. “So it’s no surprise that the UV-absorbing chemicals in sunscreens can be taken into the body.”

This is also the case for so-called “natural” sunscreen products. “A less-cautious consumer might opt for a mineral sunscreen, perhaps without realising that the minerals, zinc oxide and titanium oxide, can also be absorbed through the skin,” he said.

The study DOESN’T: Indicate that the absorption of those chemicals is harmful to the body.

This was not assessed in this study. Nor is there empirical evidence of this elsewhere.

The study does: Allow room for more long-term research into the effect of exposure to sunscreen ingredients.

As Prof Rae noted, “In laboratory tests, most of the sunscreen chemicals can act as hormone mimics, potentially affecting development and the immune system. But whether these effects can be demonstrated in [a person], and whether the use of sunscreens can produce higher concentrations than the body can safely deal with, are as-yet-unanswered questions.”

Most importantly, the study DOESN’T: mean you should toss out your sunscreen.

Experts — and the FDA itself — are urging people to continue to use sunscreen to protect against harmful UV rays. To quote the study authors, “These findings do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen.”

As Prof Rae put it (in a generously cautious way)…

“Skin cancer is probably a greater danger than sunscreen.”

That’s a crucial point in this whole discussion. Especially in Australia where melanoma is the third most common cancer in both men and women, and where one of us dies from the disease roughly every five hours.

With that in mind, it’s worth remembering that the benefits of sunscreen in preventing skin cancer are very clear.

A 2018 study led by the University of Sydney and published in JAMA Dermatology found that Australians aged 18-40 years who were regular users of sunscreen in childhood reduced their risk of developing melanoma by 40 per cent, compared to those who rarely used sunscreen. Forty per cent.

And so, the Cancer Council continues to recommend using broad-spectrum 30+ or higher sunscreen on every day the UV index is forecast to be 3 or above, along with sun-protection clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

In short, with all the available research and, yes, even the unanswered questions, scientists and health organisations continue to advocate for the safety and benefits of sunscreen.  Slip. Slop. Slap.

Feature image:Facebook (Channel 7)

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