Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, shares pearls from his research in benzene contamination in sunscreens and what advice he shares with patients.
While a bad sunburn may fade away, the detrimental effects are not so easily forgotten. “The skin remembers all the sun it sees,” said Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, associate professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. Mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc, proper sun protective clothing, and SPF 30 and above levels of sunscreen are Bunick’s best tips to patients for protecting their skin from damage, as well as preventing visible signs of aging and certain skin cancers.
Bunick first emphasized that any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen, especially anything over SPF 30. Anything lower than SPF 30 is not adequately protecting the skin and blocking UV rays. When deciding between the type of sunscreen, Bunick tends to lean towards physical blockers, also known as mineral-based sunscreens, that contain zinc and titanium, rather than chemical blockers. Newer formulations of mineral sunscreens also leave less of a white cast than before.
“There's a huge difference between SPF 4 and SPF 30 in terms of the amount of UV light that can be blocked. When you go from SPF 30 to 50, yes there's still an advantage, but it's less than going from 4 to 30. Then when you go from 50 to 75 or 75 to 100, there’s only a few percentage points difference in UV blocking,” noted Bunick. Overall, patients should use at least an SPF 30 sunscreen, but Bunick prefers patients to use an SPF 50 or higher. It’s important to note that optimal sunscreen use also includes applying the right amount of sunscreen and reapplying approximately every 2 hours.
For additional protection, there are a variety of sun protective clothing brands that offer options for shirts, pants, swimwear, hats, and more. “I always push sun protective clothing. Between hats, sun protective clothing, and sunscreens themselves, we have the big 3. I think every patient should use all 3 together in order to maximize the protection of their skin,” said Bunick.
News of benzene, a known carcinogen on the same level as lead or asbestos, found in personal care products such as sunscreen has been increasing over the past 2 years. In May 2021, Valisure, an independent laboratory assessing product quality assurance within the healthcare industry, found 78 sunscreen and after-sun care products contained highlevels of benzene.1 Bunick has closely followed the numerous reports of benzene found in sunscreen and other personal care products and works to educate colleagues and consumers about the long-term adverse effects of benzene and what the future may hold.
When discussing benzene, Bunick stresses that benzene is not an ingredient found in sunscreen, but rather a contaminant from the manufacturing process of aerosolized cans. Benzene contamination found in some sunscreen products should not deter patients from using sunscreen altogether. Instead, Valisure has a thorough list of studied sunscreen products that do not contain benzene. “I do think that the long-term implications of what this contamination means in all types of personal hygiene products remains to be seen. The hopeis it means nothing, but we can't scientifically say that right now,” concluded Bunick.