Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Smokescreen on Sunscreens

Did you know that in the United States, that sunscreens aren't subject to any real regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, and that the FDA has been waffling on safety guidelines since 1978? Some of the more effective ingredients that have been in use in Europe and even fairly recently in Canada like Tinosorb S® and Tinosorb M® are still not approved by the FDA.

Just like the photo here, a higher SPF does not necessarily translate into increased protection. Many screens with a high SPF only protect you from UVB, not UVA.

Theres some fascinating information at:

that goes on to rate many sunscreens on their effectiveness, and also has a list of the members of their "Hall of Shame".

Some of these Hall of Shamers are products geared towards use on babies. Some of these have a high SPF that give the impression of high protection, but only against UVB rays, not UVA rays, which are the ones that go deeper into the skin and cause cellular damage.

I think it's a shame that many of the most highly ranked sunscreens don't appear to be available in Canada. At least, I've never seen them on shelves here in Canada. It's also rather shocking that one of the sunscreens my dermatologist recommended for daily use is ranked as a moderate risk due to it containing oxybenzone.

Oxybenzone risks:
Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Persistence and bioaccumulation, Enhanced skin absorption, Biochemical or cellular level changes

Even worse is that a can of spray sunscreen in my bathroom, which is promptly going in the garbage, is ranked as a high hazard for: being a spray, having oxybenzone and vitamin A in it. That makes sense.... breathing in chemicals that cause endocrine disruption, biochemical and cellular level changes can't be that good for you. Now think of how many parents you see spraying their kids with this stuff. They even make it smell "nice" so it's not offensive when you breathe it in, and you breathe it in deeply because it smells good.

There's a logo on many sunscreens that give the impression that it is recommended by the Canadian Cancer Society. Did you know that all the use of this logo means is that the manufacturer PAID the Canadian Cancer Society to use their logo? On the back of my apparently toxic sunscreen, it says... in tiny letters that my old eyes can't read very well: "The Canadian Cancer Society supports the use of sunscreen but does not endorse specific products."

So give the impression that you are recommending or endorsing this particular product, but then state in small letters that you don't.

Have a look at the EWG site and try to find your favorite sunscreen there and see what they have to say about it. It's quite enlightening.

"Sunscreen makers and users in Europe have more options than in the United States. In Europe, sunscreen makers can select from among 27 chemicals for their formulations, compared to 17 in the U.S. Companies selling in Europe can add any of seven UVA filters to their products, but have a choice of only three when they market in the U.S. European sunscreens could earn FDA’s proposed four-star top rating for UVA protection, while the best U.S. products would earn only three stars. Sunscreen chemicals approved in Europe but not by the FDA provide up to five times more UVA protection; U.S. companies have been waiting five years for FDA approval to use the same compounds. Last but not least, Europeans will find many sunscreens with strong (mandatory) UVA protection if proposed regulations in Europe are finalized. Under FDA’s current proposal, Americans will not. " - from EWG website

If you're in Canada and looking for a quality sunscreen that offers protection against UVA as well as UVB, it would appear that you should look for sunscreens containing Mexoryl XL, Mexoryl SX (Anthelios™, Ombrelle™, Vichy™ and Biotherm™ (L'OrĂ©al) products and Tinosorb S® and Tinosorb M® Minesol® SPF 60 products (RoC®/Johnson & Johnson)

Yes, it hasn't gone un-noticed that some of these are much more expensive than most products commonly bought at the drugstore. How many parents can afford RoC for their kids?

Or you could just buy your sunscreen in Europe. Or we could lobby Health Canada for stricter guidelines on labeling, packaging and ingredient disclosure.

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's Payback Time!

So I'm trying to pay some information forward...

It's all her fault.... and her little dog too!

It's been an interesting couple of months.

You go to what has become a routine dermatologist appointment to have some spots sprayed off with liquid nitrogen and he suggests a cream that will attack "a larger field" and causes "some reddening but once you get blisters you're done!" (I suppose for some people, having liquid nitrogen sprayed on their head, or for that to actually become "routine" would have been a big warning sign)

I've always been susceptible to sunburns. Fair-skinned, blue eyed and red hair when I was little. When most of us were kids, we were bombarded with "Coppertone Tan" ads and we spent lots of time around water and the beach. I loved being in the water, and summer was to be spent outdoors. I think the strongest sunscreen I ever used (until my 20's) was perhaps an SPF15. I remember a few blistering sunburns. One was so bad that I had the chills that night as I was burning up. My parents encouraged us to wear Sunscreen but like most teenagers, I thought I knew better. I wanted a tan!

So I take this prescription to Costco to get filled, only to have them tell me to come back the next day as it had to be ordered. When I went back the next day, they got all weird, asking me if I wanted to speak to the Pharmacist. I said jokingly, "its a cream, it can't be rocket science", but the staff person didn't laugh.

When I got out to the car I looked at the info sheet you get with 'scripts here in Canada. Things taking on a "metallic taste" really got my attention. Thats not a good sign. I whipped out my phone and Googled this product called "Efudex". It turns out that its a topical form of Chemotherapy.


Of course, I tried getting another appointment ASAP with the Dr. but couldn't even get through to a human, so I started Googling and looking at photos. This did nothing to reassure me. When I finally got ahold of the Dr., he told me I shouldn't be looking at pictures online. (If I could get through to his office, I wouldn't need to be doing that, would I?!)

Some reddening?

Thats an understatement.

I work with the public, and even my favorite hobbies involve putting myself out in front of people. I'd managed to snag a bit part in an Opera being done this fall and walking in there looking even a fraction as bad as people I'd seen in photos was a deal-breaker.

Just how bad are these photos? Have a look here. (Goes to a Google search)

Actually, some of these don't look so bad now....

So, on my next appointment, I asked if we could burn off some spots that concerned him and start treatment in the Fall. Who wants to have to stay indoors or walk around looking like raw hamburger during the 8 weeks of nice weather we get in Southern Ontario? He agreed and I've set my "start" date as October 23, 2011.

It should be interesting as that week, several people asked me what was going on as the spots that were burnt off, blistered and then crusted over. I'm not looking forward to October, and it'll be here before we know it, but it's got to be done.

I don't know how this is going to affect my work. It's not like I can telecommute. That's a big question mark at this point.

Why this Blog?

I noticed that though there are a few blogs out there that detail the patients' progress using Efudex, but I think there's always room for 1 or two more voices.

Perhaps a Canadian angle? Already, I'm noticing that the same prescription for Efudex that cost me $39 at Costco, is several hundred dollars in the US. Though it's nice, in an odd sort of way to see that something is more expensive in the US than in Canada, because we're so used to seeing the opposite, why does it have to be something like this?

It'd be nice if some Drs. saw this and thought that perhaps maybe they should better inform their patients of what's going on so they don't put 2 and 2 together in a Costco parking lot.

Further, if my experience can persuade even ONE person (especially young people) to use sunscreen more, in order to avoid having to go through up to 8 weeks of pain, blistering and looking horrible, or having to endure surgery to remove cancerous spots, then maybe its not such a dreadful experience to go through.

I can tell from peoples reactions a few weeks back that stares and questions are going to be a daily occurrence. I'm thinking of making up some buttons that say things like "Use Sunscreen!", "Don't worry, it's not contagious", etc ... maybe make it an educational experience for others.

My Dr. said that he doesn't expect me to "light up like a Christmas tree" (my words - not his), but we'll see.

So if you are coming across this blog because your Doctor has prescribed you something called Efudex/Efudix/Carac or Fluorouracil and you don't know what it is or what to expect... welcome! Yes, there are some scary photos out there and kudos to the authors who have documented their progress using this.

The good news is that if you're using this drug, you're being proactive and hopefully catching things before they turn worse, or much worse.

If there's one bright spot in all of this, its that apparently, people who've used it have reported younger looking skin and fewer wrinkles as a result.

Okay, I admit it. I'm clutching at straws. :-)

In the meantime, the next time the Doctor asks if I've been wearing sunscreen everyday, I can honestly say yes - SPF 45 to 70. I'll just have to make sure that it's one of the ones that isn't misleading.