You are here:

Always ensure you are well protected from the sun!

13/2007, 17.07.2007

UV filter substances in sunscreen agents are basically safe

For many people summer is the nicest time of the year. The sun makes you feel good but it can be unpleasant or even dangerous. Exposure to intense sunlight can cause painful and harmful sunburn. In the long term the UV rays can even lead to cancer. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), therefore, recommends always using enough sun protection. Cosmetic sunscreens offer at least some protection from the harmful UV rays. UV filters are added to cosmetic sunscreens for the purposes of sun protection. The manufacturers must prove their safety in scientific studies as small amounts of the UV filter substances may pass through the skin into the body when the sunscreen agent is applied. Discussions about the effects and side-effects of UV filters have caused concern amongst many consumers. BfR has, therefore, assessed the safety and efficacy of commercially available UV filter substances. "Most of the substances on the market are safe for consumers according to the latest scientific findings", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of BfR. The results of a review which is currently ongoing on the European level will reveal whether this also applies to the substance 4-methyl benzylidene camphor (4-MBC).

In Germany around 140,000 people develop skin cancer every year. One cause is skin damage from the sun’s rays. The skin should, therefore, be protected if possible from direct exposure to sunlight. It is also generally recommended that people avoid the intensive mid-day sun. Children under the age of two should not be exposed to the sun at all. Their skin has not yet developed its own protective function from the sun’s rays. What many consumers fail to realise is that the shade does not offer complete protection from the sun, the degree of exposure to the UV rays is just lower. The eyes should also be protected from sun damage through good quality sunglasses.

Clothing, a “textile sunscreen”, offers the best protection from the rays. Sunscreen should be applied to the uncovered parts of the body. It is also important that the sunscreen has a sufficiently high sun protection factor and offers high UVA protection.

UV filter substances provide the sun protection. They must be authorised and may only be used if their safety has been proven. This applies to most of the commercially available UV filters. Only in the case of the substance 4-methyl benzylidene camphor (4-MBC) have existing concerns still to be dispelled. The suspicion has emerged in animal experiments that 4-MBC could influence the thyroid hormone and it has not yet been refuted. 4-MBC is, therefore, currently undergoing a review on the European level.

The indication of the sun protection factor on sunscreens is about to change. The European Commission has recommended replacing the previous gradual degrees of sun protection factors with four categories. In future, sunscreens will be classed in the categories low, medium, high and very high.

Sunscreens should be applied before going out in the sun. But there is no need to wait for the 20 or 30 minutes indicated on some packaging. The UV filter substances are immediately active. However, if people stay outside longer the sunscreen must be reapplied to maintain the desired level of protection. The sunscreen should not be applied sparingly. If too little is applied to the skin, then the sun protection factor indicated on the packaging will not be achieved.

However, the time spent safely in the sun cannot be extended by repeated application of the sunscreen. The general rule is that people with fair skin can spend 10 minutes without protection exposed to direct sunlight, people with darker skin up to 60 minutes.