Dangers of Sunscreen

Throwing Shade at Many Sun “Protection” Products

Most of us wouldn’t dream of heading to the beach, pool or park without a stash of various sunscreen products to rub, spray or dab on our bodies and faces, as well as those of our children. With television commercials and magazine ads constantly espousing the “doctor-recommended” benefits of protecting our skin from sun exposure, we’ve been made to think it’s irresponsible not to.

But if exposure to the sun automatically leads to skin cancer, and regularly wearing sunscreen protects us from this fate, why are skin cancer rates, particularly melanoma, still rising in spite of increased use of sunscreen and reduced exposure to the sun?

It’s because many of the most popular sunscreens may actually be me more dangerous than the sun itself. Here’s why:

Most sunscreens are made with one of more chemicals designed to create a barrier between your skin and the sun’s potentially harmful rays. With names like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate, these chemicals not only create that barrier, but can be absorbed into the blood and other tissues causing a variety of undesirable side effects, including hormonal disruptions and long-term allergic reactions, and contributing to conditions such as reduced sperm count in men and endometriosis in women. In addition, some release skin-damaging free radicals when exposed to, believe it or not, sunlight!

In fact, research done by the Environmental Working Group suggests that retinyl palmitate, a chemical used in many sunscreens, may actually make getting skin cancer more likely as it has been shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells; Many of the other chemicals (methoxycinnamate, oxybenzone and PABA) are considered estrogenic and have a proven linked to cancer.

If you still find the sun scarier than the list of toxic ingredients you’re rubbing into your skin, you should know that the label on the back of the products is not the only one to be concerned about. Researchers at Consumer Reports recently evaluated the SPF value of 65 sunscreen products in various forms and found 43% to have less protection than the label on the front claims.

Can You Be in the Sun Safely?

There are many things to consider when evaluating your exposure to the sun. First, in spite of its demonization as being the sole cause of skin cancer, the sun is your absolute best source of Vitamin D3. In fact, after 20 minutes of sun exposure, your body naturally produces just the right amount of this necessary vitamin to boost immunity, improve mood and fight cancer. Due to decreased sun exposure overall, a full 75% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient, which opens them up to host of conditions with much higher death rates than skin cancer, including heart disease and different cancers, not to mention mood disorders and other illnesses.

That being stated, sunburns are not good. They are painful and can cause wrinkles and other signs of premature aging even in cases where they don’t cause cancer, so being responsible about exposure to the sun is smart. Finding shady spots and wearing proper clothing, headwear, and sunglasses will allow you to stay outdoors longer without fear of blistering.

In addition, there is growing evidence that eating a diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats while avoiding inflammatory and processed foods can offer a measure of protection from the inside out.

A number of natural oils, including wheat germ oil, red raspberry oil and carrot seed oil offering varying levels of sun screening protection without any chemicals added. While not intended for intense, long-term exposure, they do a good job for reasonable outings and also nourish your skin, leaving it softer and smoother. If you look online, there are a variety of easy homemade sunscreen potions, most utilizing natural carrier oils like the ones mentioned above, as well as coconut, avocado, and almond oils, to name a few. In addition, the recipes generally include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, all natural ingredients proven to block the sun’s rays.

For prolonged exposure, there is a place for sunscreen — if you choose wisely.  There is a growing market of commercially produced, certified organic sunscreen options.  Look for mineral-based sunscreens with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide instead of their more toxic, chemical-based counterparts, or google some of the many homemade sunscreens These provide a safer barrier from harmful UVB rays while not crossing into the bloodstream, shielding you from sunburn, as well as the unintended side effects of your usual summertime “protection.”