Are Sunscreens Causing Cancer?

sunscreen safety, safe sunscreens

With summer coming into full force, it’s time to protect our skin. Many doctors commonly advise that we get approximately 20 minutes of sun a day to give our bodies the much needed Vitamin D that our bodies need. We do not want to entirely block the sun rays as some Vitamin D is known to help the body fight against cancer. Vitamin D is also crucial for healthy bones and teeth, and our body requires Vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus. It can also fight against type 1 diabetes and multiple diseases. In short, Vitamin D is crucial to our health and the primary source of Vitamin D is the sun.

Are Chemical-Based Sunscreens Safe?

sunscreen chemicals, safe sun

Sunscreens have been around for almost the entire 20th century and are now used commonly among consumers all over the world. The goal of sunscreens is to block UV light, harmful sun rays that can age the skin and cause skin cancer over time.

Sunscreens are regulated by the FDA. The FDA warns that it's more than just applying the sunscreen, it's about how and when we use the sunscreen that really matters the most. The FDA also advises consumers to limit the time in the sun, use broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapply lotions ever 2 hours. It’s also important to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside as 20-30 minutes is needed for the sunscreen to absorb and start working.

Of the 15 clear suntan lotions approved by the FDA, 9 are chemical-based and are known endocrine disruptors. What does this mean? The chemicals in these suntan lotions disrupt the the functioning of our hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Whatever we put on our skin will undoubtedly end up in our bloodstream. These chemical sunscreens work by being rubbed onto the skin and then the chemicals from the suntan lotions are absorbed into the skin and then dispersed throughout the bloodstream.

The FDA says, “Every drug has active ingredients and inactive ingredients.  In the case of sunscreen, active ingredients are the ones that are protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.  Inactive ingredients are all other ingredients that are not active ingredients, such as water or oil that may be used in formulating sunscreens. Below is a list of acceptable active ingredients in products that are labeled as sunscreen:

Aminobenzoic acid, Avobenzone, Cinoxat, Dioxybenzone, Homosalate, Menthyl anthranilate, Octocrylene, Octyl methoxycinnamate, Octyl salicylate, Oxybenzone, Padimate O, Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, Sulisobenzone, Titanium dioxide, Trolamine salicylate, Zinc oxide

Although the protective action of sunscreen products takes place on the surface of the skin, there is evidence that at least some sunscreen active ingredients may be absorbed through the skin and enter the body. This makes it important to perform studies to determine whether, and to what extent, use of sunscreen products as directed may result in unintended, chronic, systemic exposure to sunscreen active ingredients.” source: FDA Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun

Recent studies have shown that basically all of the chemicals are dispersed into the bloodstream and that these chemicals are still found in the body two days later.

Do Sunscreens Really Have Endocrine Disruptors?

Unfortunately yes. And endocrine disruptors can cause a slew of problems such as developmental problems with unborn babies and newborns and fertility and sperm problems with men. Studies have shown these disruptors can also cause ovarian cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.  

One of the most troubling ingredients in suntan lotions is oxybenzone, a toxic chemical used to absorb UV light. Oxybenzone is a known hormone disruptor and causes cell damage. It may also contribute to cancer. It basically penetrates the skin from the cream and acts like estrogen. Preliminary studies have linked it to endometriosis in older women.

Retinyl Palmitate is another chemical to be concerned about. Sun safety website, EWG says, “When used in a night cream, this form of vitamin A is supposed to have anti-aging effects. But on sun-exposed skin, retinyl palmitate may speed development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies. Why is this “inactive ingredient” allowed in sunscreens intended for use in the sun? Good question. The FDA has yet to rule on the safety of retinyl palmitate in skin care products, but EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens containing this chemical.” EWG Sun Safety

Which Sunscreens are Safe? A Natural and Healthier Alternative to Chemical-Based Sunscreens Exists

So what do we buy and use as sunscreen if the chemical-based sunscreens offered on the market are toxic? We need to use a mineral sunscreen that is either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based. Both mineral-based sunscreens, which are frankly hard to find, work by blocking UVA and UVB rays. For a long time, consumers have shied away from using zinc-based sunscreen creams because of the white residue left on the skin but new versions are more clear.

An interesting solution is coconut oil. Coconut oil acts as a natural sunscreen, providing protection that is roughly equivalent to about SPF 8. It can be combined with a sunscreen. It also hydrates and moisturizes the skin, allowing the skin protection against potential burning.

This summer, and the rest of the year, opt for a natural sunscreen. It may be more money and harder to find, but your skin and health are worth it.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published