As a person with fair skin, I have applied more sunscreen than I can quantify over the years.  It had been drilled into my head:

“Apply sunscreen and you will not get burned. Apply sunscreen and you will not get skin cancer. Be safe; apply more sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the better.”

Well, as I became more concerned about what I put on my skin, and now especially on my children’s skin, I have discovered that what is found in conventional sunscreen may be more harmful than the sun’s rays themselves.  And that the abundant use of sunscreen is harming us and causing an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.  Did you know this? I know I didn’t.  Our skin is the single largest organ in our body.  We are increasingly becoming aware of ingesting poisons and toxins in our food and drinking supply, but many think nothing of slathering on these toxins in cosmetics and sunscreen (another post on cosmetics and personal care items is too come at a future date!).

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published “9 Surprising Truths” about sunscreens (I’m only highlighting 6):

  1. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) BOTH say that there is no data that proves sunscreen prevents skin cancer.  The IARC actually recommends physical barriers, such as clothing, hats, and staying in the shade, over relying solely on sunscreen!
  2. Sunscreens may actually increase the risk of skin cancer for some people! The article says that some researchers theorize that this is because sunscreen users stay in the sun longer and absorb more radiation, because they feel they are better protected.
  3. Higher SPF does not mean its better. Fueled by the belief that more SPF is better, companies have clamored for “I’ve got more SPF coverage than you” claims.  These claims are lulling people into a false sense of security, encouraging them to stay in the sun longer than recommended. There is actually a new FDA regulation that will prohibit manufacturers from having SPF 50+ on labeling.
  4. Too little sun = low Vitamin D levels. Yeah, we can use supplements for Vitamin D, but the best source of it is sunshine.  This vitamin strengthens bones, the immune system, reduces the risk of cancer, and regulates thousands of genes throughout our bodies.  The EWG cites the American Medical Association as recommending 10 minutes of DIRECT sun, WITHOUT SUNSCREEN, “several times a week.”
  5. Direct Application of Vitamin A may actually cause skin cancer. This vitamin is a common ingredient in conventional sunscreen and “when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions”.  This is often labeled as retinyl palmitate or retinol.
  6. Sunscreen ingredients generating free radicals. What does that mean?  Well, according to this article, both UV radiation and common sunscreen ingrediates “generate free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer.”

What?  I went to a study done by Skin Biology for more information.    They state that “free radical generating sunscreen chemicals” have “estrogen-like” effects.  Hmmm.  Many articles, studies, etc. have already published that increased estrogen is causing problems in menopausal women.  So… we’re adding to it with our sunscreen?  Let’s read on.  “When the body’s hormone receptors recognize the estrogenic chemical as estrogen, the result is feminization of the tissue.”

They then went on to list the Expected Effects of Estrogenic Chemicals in Humans.

Woman: Endometriosis, migraines, severe PMS, erratic menstrual periods, increased breast and uterine cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, uterine cysts.  Men: lowered sperm counts, sexual identity confusion, breast enlargement, smaller penile size, testicular cancer, undescended testicles.

The Ideal Sunscreen.

So what do we choose?  The EWG recommends that the best option is: mineral sunscreens (made from zinc and titanium).  These are stable when exposed to UV rays and do not penetrate the skin.

AND to cover your skin with clothing and stay in the shade. Limit your exposure to the sun (outside of the recommendation for Vitamin D development).  And reapply *safe* sunscreens every few hours and after exposure to water or sweating.

Read the full article here.

Check out the EWG 2010 Sunscreen Guide.  Their top recommendations include the brands: Alba Botanic, Badger, BurnOut, California Baby, Episencial, and others.  These all appear low on the Cosmetics Database. Many of these brands are available in retail stores, as well as online retailers.

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SOURCES:

Sunscreens Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths”, Environmental Working Group, published 2010.

FDA Wrapping Up Sunscreen Label Changes” by Salynn Boyles, Web MD, Published May 21, 2009

The Chemical Sunscreen Health Disaster”, by Dr. Loren Pickart. SkinBiology

FURTHER READING:

Summer Survival Kit”, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mercola.com

New Study Finds Only 8 Percent of Sunscreens are Safe and Effective”, by Healthy Child Healthy World, Web MD, Published May 26, 2010

How Safe and Effective Are Sunscreens?”, by Kathleen Doheny, Web Md Health News, Published July 2, 2009

RESOURCES:

EWG 2010 Sunscreen Guide

Cosmetics Database

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