Does a Common Sunscreen Ingredient Cause Skin Cancer?

Most consumers know that if they can’t avoid the sun, the use of sunscreen along with hats and long sleeve clothing is the best known method of preventing skin cancer and slowing signs of aging like wrinkles and sun spots. It makes sense that the sunscreen industry embraced Vitamin A, an antioxidant that slows aging, as a sunscreen ingredient. That is, it made sense until recent studies revealed that sunscreens containing Vitamin A (commonly listed as retinyl palmitate) may actually increase the likelihood of skin cancer. This is because Vitamin A may be what scientists call photocarcinogenic, or a substance that accelerates tumor growth when applied to skin that is subsequently exposed to the sun.

Who knows about this? The Food and Drug Administration for one; its recent study found that skin tumors and lesions developed 20% faster in subjects treated with a Vitamin A cream compared to those treated with a vitamin-free cream. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has been lobbying the FDA and Congress on this issue, indicates that the FDA’s study is preliminary and subject to further review.  But in the meantime, 41% of sunscreens sold in the United States contain an ingredient that seems to accelerate skin cancer growth when exposed to the sun. Don’t wait for the FDA to sort it out. Consumers have been waiting for the FDA to finalize enforceable sunscreen guidelines since 1978. Instead, read your sunscreen ingredient list for Vitamin A or retinyl palmitate.