Though a growing number of Canadian parents are alleging that Banana Boat sunscreens left their children with burns and blisters, it remains unclear whether the products are in fact to blame.
Health Canada says that it has received 139 complaints about Banana Boat sunscreen products in the past two months. But it says it has not determined that the products are responsible for the severe reactions those consumers have reported.
In a statement to CTV News, the health agency noted that adverse reaction reports are simply suspected associations that reflect the opinion of the individual making the report.
“Observations made by people who use a product are not proof a specific substance caused a reaction,” the agency said.
In one of the latest incidents, a Victoria, B.C.mother alleges her 12-year-old son suffered a severe reaction after using a Banana Boat sunscreen product and spending several hours in the sun while on a school trip Tuesday.
Patrizia Fitch, of Victoria, said her son Daniel came home with severe burns.
“I thought maybe he was out in the sun too much, but the blisters kept growing and growing, and the second day, the blisters were enormous and they were everywhere,” she told CTV News.
Fitch says she believes the sunscreen is responsible after she found pictures online of others who had developed similar reactions after using Banana Boat products.
In May, three other mothers complained that their babies suffered chemical burn injuries after using Banana Boat sunscreen.
Health Canada says it has been receiving similar reports since the spring. But while the agency has been investigating the reports and has reviewed test results provided by Banana Boat, it has not identified any problems.
Health Canada is now conducting its own testing of the sunscreens.
In a statement to CTV News, Banana Boat Sun Care Canada said it takes consumers’ concerns seriously and is fully co-operating with Health Canada, adding that its product cannot cause chemical burns.
“We are sympathetic to consumer concerns and want to help address these concerns as soon as we are able,” the company said.
“We want to reassure consumers that Banana Boat sunscreens fall within a neutral pH range, which means they are safe for human skin and cannot cause chemical burns. Chemical burns are sometimes mistakenly linked to personal care products or are confused with sunburns.”
The company advised those with concerns to visit a dermatologist who can determine the differences between a chemical burn, a sunburn, a reaction to the sunscreen itself or a photoallergic reaction.
Dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka, the medical director and chief of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, wonders whether something went wrong in the manufacturing process of the sunscreen.
Dr. Buka says many popular sunscreens use chemicals that can degrade when exposed to ultraviolet light -- which he admits does sound counterintuitive.
“What I think may have happened in the production line or manufacturing process is that this product was exposed to some sunlight, deactivating the chemical structure of the sunscreen,” he told CTV News Channel from New York.
Buka says he has concerns about chemical-based sunscreens in general and prefers those that use mineral blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium. Those minerals sit on the surface of the skin and “act like tiny mirrors to reflect light off the surface of the skin,” he said, adding that such products are not prone to issues of chemical degradation
“Look for something that’s SPF 30 or higher. It should have zinc or titanium in it – one of those two is a great physical blocker, stays on and lasts a long time. I would just avoid the other chemical sunscreen altogether,” Dr. Buka said.
In May, Dr. Cheryl Rosen, a clinical dermatologist at Toronto Western Hospital and a spokesperson for the Canadian Dermatology Association, said it appeared to her the children might have been having irritant or allergic reactions to one or more ingredients in the sunscreens.
“It might be one of the sunscreens -- the ingredients doing the UV absorbing – but it could also be a fragrance ingredient, or a preservative, that is irritating to these children,” she told CTVNews.ca.
Banana Boat encourages consumers with questions or who want additional information to contact the company at 1-888-786-8477.