Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Just When I Thought I Was Done Talking About Sunscreen (Part 1)

Whew! I took a month off of writing posts after a whirlwind of a May. I had a tidy pile of ideas and topics for The Dermis when BAM! The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published their 2015 sunscreen guide. Somehow I had blocked out that this guide comes out annually, as well as the misinformation and fear and that goes with it. After a slew of well-meaning, rational folks began posting and reposting on Facebook and Twitter–to be honest–I had a moment.

Ok, it was more like a tirade. Fortunately, this only occurred within earshot of my partner and my dog (sorry guys). I have taken some slow, deep breaths and have realized this is the perfect time to talk about the EWG, what is being suggested by the guide, and what I think about it. I'll be breaking this into 3 separate entires. So just when you thought you free from my sunscreen posts.......

I learned a new term last week: internet crank

From Geraint Lewis and Michael J. I. Brown of iflscience.com:
"....examples of the tactics used by online cranks, such as emotional escalation, errors of omission, dismissing experts and proclaiming to support science while simultaneously undermining it."
While not being used to refer to the EWG, I thought it expressed perfectly what I felt was going on when I read the report. So before I get to refuting some more specific points, it's important to discuss where I think the root of the problem comes from. The EWG's report is based on an arbitrary system and scale that they have created themselves, with no generally accepted scientific standards. It is not peer reviewed.

From Skincancer.org:
"What they are doing is developing their own system for evaluating things," said Dr. Warwick L. Morison, professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins and chairman of the Skin Cancer Foundation's photobiology committee, which tests sunscreens for safety and effectiveness. "Using this scale to say a sunscreen offers good protection or bad protection is junk science." 
Dr. Morison has no financial ties to sunscreen makers, and his work with the Skin Cancer Foundation is unpaid.
The methodology used to determine the rankings, as well as who all is involved is hazy and hard to pinpoint. Here's a great infographic outlining the differences between the methods of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) and the EWG. According to their website, the CIR reviews and assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics in an open, unbiased, and expert manner, and publish their findings in peer reviewed scientific literature. The CIR has often taken heat for being industry-funded organization and yet, in comparison, its process seems way more transparent to me.

Thanks to Of Faces and Fingers for the infographic. (If you want to read a great in depth post about safety and methodology in regards to parabens you can find it here.)

So while widely read and accepted, I don't find the EWG's website a consistent or credible source of information. Now you know why. Next up? What they're saying about Retinyl Palmitate.