Chemistry label warning to reduce sun exposure
Chemistry labels for chemicals linked to sun exposure may have been misleading in a study of American families and could lead to misclassification of toxic chemicals, researchers say.
The study, published Wednesday in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that labeling of sunscreen and other sunscreens made with chemical ingredients, including some containing endocrine disrupting substances, was consistent with the label warnings.
While most people think the label warns of “sunburn,” it could also include chemicals that cause skin irritation and can cause sunburn, said lead author Jessica Ehrlich, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business.
She said that label, as well as other common warnings, could have been misinterpreted in a large, nationally representative study.
“We need to be more careful when using this kind of labeling, to make sure that it’s accurate,” Ehrliches said.
Ehrlein said she was surprised by how widespread the misclassifications were.
In the study, she and her colleagues asked parents and children in Minneapolis and New York City about the sunscreen and chemical ingredients in their sunscreen purchases.
They looked at the chemicals and ingredients in the sunscreen in different categories, from non-toxic to harmful.
The researchers found that a third of the sunscreen brands tested had a label that warned against sunburn.
About half the sunscreen companies surveyed had labels that were inconsistent with the labels on their sunscreen labels, such as a label saying sunscreen with chemical ingredient A did not contain chemical ingredient B. The labels were found to be misleading in most cases, Ehrle said.
“That suggests that the labels are more relevant for people who are buying sunscreen than for people with skin allergies,” she said.
The report was based on a survey of 3,813 people in New York, 1,600 in Minneapolis, 1 in Los Angeles and 1 in Chicago.
It was based primarily on sunscreen products purchased between March 2017 and July 2018.
The results suggest that the sunscreen labels for some chemical ingredients are inaccurate, the authors wrote.
The sunscreen labels that contain chemical ingredients should reflect the label’s message, and are appropriate for people in all ages and skin types, said Dr. Joanne Crampton, a professor of environmental medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who was not involved in the research.
But sunscreen manufacturers could also use the study to inform the way they label sunscreen ingredients, she said, by changing the labels to reflect more accurate information.
The American Chemistry Council, a trade group for chemicals, issued a statement Wednesday saying the study did not support the use of sunscreen labels to warn people against exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
The chemical industry has been pushing the idea that there are more beneficial chemicals in sunscreen than harmful chemicals.
It’s a false dichotomy, Cramton said.
People with skin sensitivities can tolerate some sunscreen, while those who have no skin sensitivity or have allergies can’t.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the majority of chemical ingredients that are not hazardous to human health are safe to use.
That’s important, she added.
Chemicals with the word “sensitizing” or “irritating” are more likely to cause irritation than the word, “toxic,” she added, adding that it could be misleading for consumers to assume chemicals that are safe for people to use are safer for skin.
Echaveste Pineda, who has asthma, said she uses sunscreen to keep her skin clear of pollen.
But when she wears sunscreen to her work, she gets sunburns.
She also has skin allergies, which are the most common skin reaction when exposed to chemical sunscapes.
She believes the labels should be changed to reflect that.
“The sunscreen industry is pushing the chemical industry to keep chemicals out of sunscopes,” she told ABC News.