During the summer of 2017, Health Canada received more reports than usual describing skin reactions related to the use of sunscreen products. In response, the Department conducted a safety review to assess the latest science around the potential risk of skin reactions from these products.
Through its safety review, Health Canada has concluded that there are no new safety concerns with any sunscreen products. However, the Department found that, on rare occasions, mild to moderate skin reactions may develop in individuals who have an allergy or sensitivity to one or more ingredients in sunscreen products.
Health Canada’s safety review complemented the Department’s earlier testing of a wide range of sunscreen brands, which did not identify any serious concerns with the quality of the products tested.
The benefits of regular use of broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that provides protection from both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays) with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher continue to greatly outweigh any risk of local skin reactions. Health Canada recommends broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher to prevent sunburn and to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. Anyone with a known history of severe reactions to sunlight should stay out of the sun as much as possible and always use sunscreen and other sun-protective measures.
Sunscreens—even if labelled “hypoallergenic”—can still contain ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction in a small number of people. These reactions can take up to three days to appear. The reaction is not limited to areas of the skin exposed to the sun, and can spread to skin all over the body. If a reaction occurs, these individuals should switch to another type of sunscreen to which they do not react and seek guidance from a healthcare professional, if necessary.
Health Canada suggests that Canadians with sensitive skin test for a reaction before using any sunscreen products, especially on children and babies. This can be done by testing sunscreen products on a small patch of skin on the inner forearm for several days in a row. If the skin turns red or otherwise reacts, individuals should not continue using the product. Consumers should follow instructions on the label when applying sunscreen, and seek medical care if they or their children have an unusual reaction.
Health Canada says they will continue to monitor safety information involving sunscreen products to identify and assess potential harms.
Photo Credit: Children’s Science Centre