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EWG Stands By Its Vitamin A Sunscreen Warning

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Washington, DC – Environmental Working Group's review of a commentary on the safety of retinyl palmitate in sunscreens, published August 6 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, has found numerous flaws and misleading arguments along with undisclosed industry affiliations by two of the three authors.

The commentary, written in response to EWG's 2010 Sunscreen Guide, fails to mention a critical endpoint in government data showing the increased speed of tumor and skin damage development on sun-exposed skin after application of retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A and a common sunscreen ingredient.

Among other flaws, the commentary improperly dismisses widely recognized "gold standard" methods for assessing human carcinogenicity risks by means of animal studies.

The authors, Steven Q. Wang, Stephen W. Dursza and Henry W. Lim, declare no conflicts of interest. However, in previous publications, Dr. Wang has disclosed that he has been a consultant for La Roche-Posay, which uses vitamin A in eye creams. Dr. Lim has disclosed a consulting relationship with Johnson & Johnson, which has several sunscreen product lines containing vitamin A.

"Their fragmentary analysis of a government study exonerates an ingredient used by companies for whom they have done paid consulting," said Jane Houlihan, EWG's senior vice president for research. "We're disappointed they did not disclose their conflicts of interest in publishing their commentary."

The dermatologists' unsupportable justifications for the use of vitamin A in sunscreens include the 40-year history of its use in skin products and its track record of safety in oral drugs.

But in its response, EWG points out that many uses of vitamin A skin products are creams intended for use at night, not on sun-exposed skin. Makers of such creams containing Vitamin A warn against exposing treated skin to sunlight.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.