I’m sure everyone has experienced it one way or another. You know, mumbling those famous words: “I never thought…” The words that come when you look at your life and see how your life is different than you imagined it would be. I feel this way often, especially when I look at my approach to food, health, and parenting:
I never thought I’d spend so much time in the kitchen cooking.
I never thought I’d be making my own shampoo, laundry detergent, or toothpaste.
I never thought I’d want a home birth (or a natural birth, for that matter).
And I never thought I’d be writing a post about why you may want to reconsider your sunscreen.
Nope, never thought it.
The thing is I grew up fearing the sun. As a very (very) fair-skinned individual I’ve always been very (very) cautious about the sun’s rays. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time outdoors and was religious about sunscreen.
I mean, why wouldn’t I be?
Every health practitioner will tell you to use it. Heck, even the beauty world tells you it should be your #1 go-to product. After all, sunscreen will save us from sun damage… you know, the stuff that causes wrinkles and premature aging. (I mean, who wants skin like leather?) And of course, the number one reason to use sunscreen is to avoid skin cancer.
I sure don’t want skin cancer.
But like so many things in life that slowly move us to a place we “never thought we’d be in,” I started wondering about this societal ritual of slathering on a chemically-saturated cream. And for the past few years some nagging questions have been circling around in my mind:
How long has sunscreen been around?
Has sunscreen decreased skin cancer rates?
What did people do before sunscreen?
These questions pushed me into research mode and I found some answers that were really surprising:
How long has sunscreen been around?
The first effective sunscreen may have been developed by chemist Franz Greiter in 1938. The first widely used sunscreen was produced by Benjamin Green, an airman and later a pharmacist, in 1944. (1)
1938? 1944? Uh… that wasn’t that long ago.
And when you think about the fact that for centuries most people worked and lived in the sun (way more than we do), it makes me wonder: Were they all dying of skin cancer? My guess: probably not.
Has sunscreen really decreased skin cancer rates?
Turns out my guess was right. In fact, skin cancer is at an all time high. So is sunscreen use. The AMA once quietly (but definitively) admitted that an increased use of sunscreen is correlated with an increased incidence of skin Cancer.
Did you catch that? Let me repeat:
The American Medical Association admitted that an increased use of sunscreen is correlated with an increased incidence of skin cancer!!
In fact, several epidemiological studies indicate an increased risk of malignant melanoma for the sunscreen user (5 – 12).
Of course, the AMA weaseled their way around the controversy by trying to convince people that it was due to the fact that those who use sunscreen spend more time in the sun. (Uh huh, sure.) So what is their recommendation? Wear more cancer causing sunscreen (2).
Consider the following:
- Sunscreen chemicals cannot adapt to the rays of the sun the way your skin can (through melanin). Therefore, the penetration of sunscreen ingredients into the lower layers of the skin increases the amount of free radicals and reactive oxygen species (3). Remember how I talked about free radicals before? Not good.
- In a 2006 study, the amount of harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS) was measured in untreated (sunscreen free) and in sunscreen-treated skin. The first 20 minutes the sunscreen skin seemed to have a protective effect and the number of ROS species was smaller. But after 60 minutes so much sunscreen had been absorbed into the skin that the amount of ROS was higher in the sunscreen-treated skin verses the untreated skin (3).
- An analysis carried about by George Zachariadis and E Sahanidou of Aristotle University found that their tests consistently revealed the presences of elements not cited in the product’s ingredient list a list that already contains toxic elements (4).
- Adverse health effects may be associated with some synthetic compounds in sunscreens. In 2007 two studies by the CDC highlighted concerns about the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone (benzophenone-3). They first detected the chemicals in greater than 95% of 2000 Americans tested, while the second found that mothers with high levels of oxybenzone in their bodies were more likely to give birth to underweight baby girls (13, 14).
Wait! That’s not all!
Artificial sunscreen has another major problem: it decreases vitamin D synthesis (15). Why is this a problem? Well, consider what vitamin D does:
- Vitamin D is important in regulating the levels of minerals such as phosphorous and calcium.
- It is can help prevent and treat rickets
- It’s used for treating weak bones, bone pain, and bone loss
- Vitamin D is used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels, including high blood pressure
- It is also used to help diabetes, obesity, muscle weakness, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, bronchitis, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and tooth and gum disease
- Some people use vitamin D for skin conditions like, psoriasis and lupus vulgaris.
- It is also used for boosting the immune system, preventing autoimmune diseases, and preventing cancer (16).
In other words:
Sunscreen has been correlated with an increase of cancer while at the same time acting as a barrier for the natural absorption of Vitamin D (from the sun) which has been shown to help prevent cancer.
So that leads me to my final question: What did people do before sunscreen? Here’s my follow-up post for ideas on how to have a healthy relationship with the sun without spending money on cancer-causing toxins.
- Hanson, KM; Gratton, E; Bardeen, CJ (2006). “Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin”.Free Radical Biology and Medicine 41 (8): 1205–12.doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2006.06.011. PMID 17015167.
- David Bradley (August 15). “Toxic sunscreen testing”.Http://www.spectroscopynow.com/coi/cda/detail.cda?id=22103&type=Feature&chId=1&page=1 year=2009.
- Garland C, Garland F, Gorham E (04/01/1992). “Could sunscreens increase melanoma risk?”. Am J Public Health 82 (4): 614–5.doi:10.2105/AJPH.82.4.614. PMC 1694089. PMID 1546792.
- Westerdahl, J.; Ingvar, C.; Masback, A.; Olsson, H. (2000). “Sunscreen use and malignant melanoma”. International journal of cancer. Journal international du cancer 87 (1): 145–50.doi:10.1002/1097-0215(20000701)87:1<145::AID-IJC22>3.0.CO;2-3. PMID 10861466.
- Autier, P.; Dore, J. F.; Schifflers, E.; Al, et; Bollaerts, A; Koelmel, KF; Gefeller, O; Liabeuf, A et al (1995). “Melanoma and use of sunscreens: An EORTC case control study in Germany, Belgium and France”. Int. J. Cancer 61 (6): 749–755.doi:10.1002/ijc.2910610602. PMID 7790106.
- Weinstock, M. A. (1999). “Do sunscreens increase or decrease melanoma risk: An epidemiologic evaluation”. Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings 4 (1): 97–100.PMID 10537017.
- Vainio, H., Bianchini, F. (2000). “Cancer-preventive effects of sunscreens are uncertain”. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health 26: 529–31.
- Wolf P, Quehenberger F, Müllegger R, Stranz B, Kerl H. (1998). “Phenotypic markers, sunlight-related factors and sunscreen use in patients with cutaneous melanoma: an Austrian case-control study”.Melanoma Res. 8 (4): 370–378. doi:10.1097/00008390-199808000-00012. PMID 9764814.
- Graham S, Marshall J, Haughey B, Stoll H, Zielezny M, Brasure J, West D. (1985). “An inquiry into the epidemiology of melanoma”.Am J Epidemiol. 122 (4): 606–619. PMID 4025303.
- Beitner H, Norell SE, Ringborg U, Wennersten G, Mattson B. (1990). “Malignant melanoma: aetiological importance of individual pigmentation and sun exposure”. Br J Dermatol. 122 (1): 43–51.doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.1990.tb08238.x. PMID 2297503.
- Experts explore the safety of sunscreen | Straight.com
- CDC: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical | Environmental Working Group
This post is part of Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.