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The Smoke Screen of Sunscreen

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Mother applying sunscreen to daughter (3-4), close-up

Source: Steve Mason / Getty

As mentioned in my previous blog, there are many chemicals to avoid when purchasing sunscreens. It doesn’t stop there. Other variables to consider would be SPF levels and damage to the coral reefs and aquatic life.

Believe it or not, sunscreen might actually be the cause of skin cancer. The inaccurate information about skin cancer continues to proliferate, mainly coming from those who have a vested interest…the companies that make and sell sunscreen! Go figure. The body needs sun exposure since this is the best way to manufacture vitamin D, which is necessary for health as I mentioned in a previous post. Humans have historically counted on sun exposure for the production of vitamin D, with skin cancer only becoming an epidemic when our diets took a turn for the worse.

The companies that manufacture sunscreen tell the public that the one reason why their product is so necessary is that the ozone layer has thinned. However, they are counting on the average person‘s ignorance in that UV rays and sunlight have ALWAYS been able to penetrate the ozone layer. The ozone layer principally stops UVC rays, which have the shortest wavelength. UVB rays, which are medium length, are only partially absorbed by the ozone layer, and are the primary cause of sunburn. UVB rays are what the body uses to make vitamin D. Too much UVB is a bad thing, but some is necessary.

UVA rays account for 90 to 95% of the ultraviolet light that reaches the earth. These rays are absorbed by melanocytes which cause the skin to tan. OVEREXPOSURE to these rays can cause damage to the connective tissue of our skin and even suppress the immune system. These are the rays that are used in tanning beds. And yes, not only did I grow up ON an island slathering my body in sunscreens, I laid in tanning beds for years. I wish I knew then…..

So how does sunscreen CAUSE skin cancer? Skin cancer has increased even in the areas where the ozone layer has not thinned at all! There is some evidence that the use of sunscreen itself is contributing to the increase in skin cancer. Just look at the ingredients list on the labels of almost all sunscreens. It shows they are full of chemicals that are known to cause cancer. I will get into that in a minute. However, an additional factor is that sunscreen ABSORBS rather than reflects UV rays. Not only that, most people think that the more SPF they use, the more protected they are…and this gives a false sense of security. I’m sure you know people that have had skin cancer that use sunscreen. Anything over SPF 50 is greatly misleading and deceptive. SPF 30 blocks nearly 97% of UVB radiation, SPF 50 blocks about 98%, and SPF 100 blocks about 99% according to the Skin Cancer Foundation and the EWG. You could actually use something as low as SPF 15, apply it liberally, and often…..every two hours and definitely after you swim, towel off or sweat. This is where people go wrong. Rarely do people reapply.

The leading toxins are:

Oxybenzone. This ingredient is commonly used in sunscreen. It is linked to endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, skin allergies and also photo allergies which means exposure to light is required to generate the allergic response. It is also labeled as benzophenone-3. This ingredient is also harmful to aquatic life and has been banned in Hawaii.

Octinoxate: this is commonly used as a UV filter protecting us from UVB rays but not UVA rays. It may be listed on a label as OMC, methyl cinnamate or ethyl methoxy-cinnamate. This ingredient is also known to disrupt your endocrine functions and is known as a reproductive toxin. It is a chemical that seeps into the skin and affects the breastmilk, urine, and blood. This has also been banned in Hawaii for its harmful effects on the coral reefs.

Homosalate: this ingredient in sunscreen only absorbs UVB rays. It has been known to affect hormones and also enhances pesticide absorption.

Nanoparticles: these, as you can imagine, are so very small, smaller than the width of a human hair. You might see them on the ingredient list as titanium dioxide which is a part of zinc oxide. The potential effects are really not known on this one. Because they are so microscopic, they may be more chemically reactive and bioavailable meaning the particles are absorbed quickly into the body.

The best sunscreens to use are between SPF 15-50. Tops. Ideally one with non-nano zinc oxide. Most oils like avocado and coconut naturally have UV filters in them. Many island regions in Asia only use oils and no other ingredient. However, there are a very good do- it- yourself all natural sunscreen recipes online. Mix up avocado and coconut oil and some zinc and you’re good to go. Super easy and healthy.

The bottom line is that there really is limited evidence that the risk of skin cancer is related to exposure to the sun or that sunscreen provides any protective whatsoever. Overexposure and sunburn, poor diet, particularly lack of antioxidant rich foods and the wrong combination of fats in the diet are more responsible. For optimum health, get back to a healthy diet, get some sun exposure every day and avoid sunburns.