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Editorial
January 21, 2020

Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen: Balancing Benefits With Unknown Harms

Author Affiliations
  • 1Dell Medical School, Department of Internal Medicine, The University of Texas at Austin
  • 2LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes, The University of Texas at Austin
  • 3Department of Dermatology, University of California, San Francisco
  • 4Editor in Chief, JAMA Dermatology, San Francisco, California
JAMA. 2020;323(3):223-224. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.20143

UV radiation is the most important known modifiable risk factor for the development of skin cancer including melanoma. Behavioral measures to reduce this risk factor include seeking shade, wearing hats and protective clothing, avoiding outdoor activities during peak sunlight hours, and regularly using sunscreen.1 Sunscreen ingredients fall into 2 distinct categories: mineral or chemical. Mineral sunscreens contain physical UV filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that offer broad-spectrum UV coverage by reflecting or refracting UV radiation from skin. Chemical sunscreens contain UV filters that absorb UV radiation and, when used in combination, can provide equal if not superior broad-spectrum UV filtration compared with mineral sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens are less likely to leave chalky or tinted white residue on the skin, which is more cosmetically acceptable especially on darker skin types. Given these relative advantages, chemical sunscreens are found in the majority of commonly available sunscreen formulations within the $1.95 billion sun care industry in the United States.2

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