Yes, I know you will initially think I am a bit crazy, but I will say it; most sunscreens are not good for you. Recent studies correlate the use of chemical sunscreen with a higher risk of skin cancer, exactly the main thing they are supposed to prevent. But alternatives do exist and here’s four great reasons for you to make the switch:
#1: Most sunscreens on the US market lack UVA protection. And while you go about covered in your SPF 1,000,000, you end up spending a lot more time in the sun –and therefore damaging your skin much more–than you would if you did not put sunscreen on in the first place.
There are two types of harmful UV radiation (the rest is blocked by the ozone layer… or sort of, but let’s assume the hole is not there): UVA and UVB. While UVB is responsible for skin burns and is the cause of the two most treatable forms of skin cancer (both carcinomas), UVA causes invisible damage to the deeper layers of the skin and is considered to be the one responsible for melanoma, the truly deadly form of skin cancer most dermatologists worry about. Researchers believe that the lack of UVA protection in sunscreens could be the main reason why rates of melanoma are on the rise, particularly in countries where its use is most widespread.
#2: Sunscreen blocks the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D. And, again, while exposing ourselves to the sun may prevent some forms of skin cancer, vitamin D deficiency is considered responsible for many other types of cancer as well as heart disease, osteoporosis, and even schizophrenia. Vitamin D also plays a very important role in the prevention and treatment of all types of allergies and asthma. We already spend most hours of the day indoors which is why about 75% of us are D deficient, so hiding under layers of sunscreen only deprives us of this vital nutrient even further. And although government recommendations have not yet changed, emerging research shows that we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t get at least a slight tan–though everyone agrees that you should not burn.
#3: At least 600 sunscreens on the market today (even many so called natural ones) contain carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These include at least six of the most common chemical sunscreens: 3-(4-methylbenzylidene)-camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC), octyl-dimethyl-PABA (OD-PABA), bexophenome-3 (Bp-3), homosalate (HMS) and oxybenzone. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic, inhibit, or alter the action of the body’s natural hormones and have been linked to early puberty in children and hormonal cancers in adults (think breast or prostate). A 1998 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control illustrated the extent of the problem when it revealed that 97% of Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone, a chemical that has also been linked to allergies and cell damage. And as if this were not enough, recent research also reveals that vitamin A (aka retinol or retinyl palmitate), a common ingredient in sunscreens and other beauty products, may act as a photocarcinogen, i.e. a chemical that induces or accelerates cancer when exposed to sunlight. Almost half of the 500 most popular sunscreen contain it!
#4: Nanoparticles, which are particles smaller than 100 nanometers (1nm = 1 billionth of a meter), are becoming more and more popular with sunscreen manufacturers. These super, super small sized particles (much thiner than a hair) are popular among manufacturers as they render titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (minerals that can often leave a white, ghostly cast on skin) transparent and mineral powder foundations ultra fine. But particles this small behave differently than regular-sized ones, and unlike their larger-sized siblings are able to penetrate the skin (and possibly the brain). Further research is needed, but studies to date suggest that nano-sized minerals could be very toxic to skin cells, even causing skin death, and also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Scary isn’t it? It surely gave me pause when I first found out. But, there are quite a few very good and healthy products on the market. In fact, the Environmental Working Group publishes a yearly list of the most effective non-toxic sunscreens that you can switch to. Of course, you can also stay tuned to my reviews, including one on my absolute favorite daily sunscreen moisturizer of all times from a lovely company called 100% Pure.
Have you made the switch already? Which is your new favorite sunscreen?
- Understanding UV rays
- Doesn’t my current sunscreen protect me from UVA?
- “Could sunlight robbery be causing cancer?”, Telegraph (UK)
- “CDC: Americans Carry ‘Body Burden’ of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical”, Environmental Working Group
- It’s time to learn from frogs, New York Times
- Endocrinology, “Shining a light on sunscreens”
- Sunscreen cancer risk, Today Tonight (Australia)