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Dermatologists claim that sunscreens with retinyl palmitate do not cause cancer

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Sun Protection for Face
August 10, 2010 Reviewed by Marta 3 Comments
The American Association of Dermatology (AAD) has just issued a statement saying that “no evidence that the inclusion of retinyl palmitate in sunscreens can cause cancer in humans”.

This conclusion was made by a team led by Steven Q. Wang, MD, FAAD, director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York after looking at data from various studies conducted since 2002.

Concerns about retinyl palmitate in sunscreen were ignited by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which earlier this year said that when retinyl palmitate is exposed to UVA radiation, it can result in the generation of harmful free radicals. Since 2002, there have been eight in vitro (test tube) studies using mouse lymphoma cell and human skin Jurkat T-cell cultures demonstrating that retinyl palmitate can produce free radicals, which can disrupt cell function.

Dr Wang’s rebuttal of the EWG concerns is based on three things: the studies were conduction on animals, not humans; the mice (according to Wang) are “highly susceptible to the effects of UV radiation and can develop skin cancer or other skin abnormalities within weeks of UV exposure, even in the absence of retinyl palmitate”; and in the studies retinyl palmitate was used on its own, not with other antioxidants.

At this stage, I don’t feel that the AAD or the EWG make a watertight case one way or the other. The FDA has still not published its own assessment of the available research data.
  • November 4, 2011

    by Marta

    Funnily enough Jina, we were having an office discussion earlier this week about symbols for posts. We'll throw that in the mix. Thanks Jina

  • November 4, 2011

    by Jina


    Hi, just an idea why don't you include a little symbol on top right hand side of your review page for hazardous ingredients. Eg: RP for retinyl palmitate, Lav O, for lavender oil etc.


  • November 4, 2011

    by Marc

    Well, the AAD is correct that the mice used were abnormal. The SKF-1 mice in the study are immune deficient, hairless and albino. The AAD also claims that the studies were 'only on cells in a test tube', which is not correct.

    Overall, I think it's a hazy political statement, which is usually not a good thing. The EWG is at least honest in their hesitation to post the study, and certainly more research is called for.

    However, the EWG's 'Skin Deep' archive lists retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate as an 8 out of 10 on their hazard scale (with plenty of research to back it up) and canada has banned the use of retinoic acid in cosmetics and has restricted the use of RP. California has them on a watch list.

    That's pretty much the last nail in the coffin for me. I'll just eat a few sweet potatoes or carrots instead.

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