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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Sunscreens 'may be toxic'
Sunbathers
Doctors recommend sunscreen to fight skin cancer
A chemical used in most sunscreens to protect against skin cancer could damage human cells, according to a study.

Research carried out in Norway found that octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), which is used in 90% of sun creams to protect against ultra violet rays, could be harmful if it seeps into a person's blood stream.

The scientists based their findings on tests they carried out on mice.

They added small concentrations of the chemical to an ethyl alcohol solution containing mouse cells.

They found that while over 90% of the cells survived when put in this solution, half were killed when the OMC was added.


OMC has been approved for use as a sunscreen for many years and has been thoroughly tested for safety

Spokeswoman for the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association

They then place the solution under a lamp for two hours to simulate the effects of the chemical in sunshine.

Under these conditions, the chemical was found to kill even more mouse cells.

The scientists, from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, suggest that this is because the chemical becomes twice as toxic when it comes into contact with light.

They add that the chemical could damage human cells if it penetrates the skin and warn the public only to use sunscreens that contain OMC when they have no other choice.

But the findings of the study have been dismissed by the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association, which represents sunscreen manufacturers in Britain.

A spokeswoman said the findings could not be applied to people who use sunscreens normally.

She added that the chemical had been "thoroughly tested" and was approved by authorities in the UK and US.

"OMC is approved and listed in the Cosmetics Directive and is also approved in the Food and Drugs Administration Sunscreen Monograph in the USA as a safe and effective sunscreen.

"OMC has been approved for use as a sunscreen for many years and has been thoroughly tested for safety."

Advice

Dr Charlotte Proby, a consultant dermatologist with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund said: "It is difficult to extrapolate from laboratory experiments in mice to humans out in the sun.

"Undoubtedly the best advice is to avoid the sun and cover up with clothing, and wear a hat and sun-glasses.

"However, using sunscreens to prevent sun damage to cells is likely to reduce the risk of skin cancer development, and is far better than not using any sun protection at all."

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26 May 00 | Health
Child sun cream withdrawn
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