Sunscreen use has risen in the past decades, as the media and doctors profess the benefits of sunscreen for protecting against skin cancer and sunburn. The problem with this billion dollar market is that not all sunscreens are created equal and in many cases sunscreen is harmful, not helpful.
Mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen
There are two ways that a sunscreen can protect the skin from sun damage: with a mineral barrier or a chemical one.
Mineral sunscreens typically include ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which create a physical barrier to protect the skin from the sun.
Chemical sunscreens use one or more chemicals including oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These chemicals raise some concerns because many are able to cross into skin and other tissue.
With these chemicals, it is important to ask questions such as:
- Will this cross the skin and get into other tissue in the body?
- Does this chemical have the potential to disrupt hormones?
- Are there long-term or allergy reactions to these chemicals.
Research reveals that the chemicals commonly used in sunscreen are endocrine disruptors, estrogenic and may interfere with thyroid and other hormone processes in the body. The most common sunscreen chemical, Oxybenzone, was found in 96% of the population by a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This is especially alarming since oxybenzone is considered an endocrine disruptor, can reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women.
Sunscreen may actually lead to skin cancer and of the reasons is that a Vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, (that is often used in sunscreens) was shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%.
Spray sunscreens have become increasingly popular in recent years, but have additional dangers, especially if inhaled.
Vitamin D dilemma
I have established that some sunscreen is harmful and may do more harm than good, but another important consideration is Vitamin D.
Most sunscreens completely block the body’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D. Statistically, 75% of us are deficient in Vitamin D and Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to higher risk of cancer and heart disease.
We lather up with chemical sunscreens that have the potential to greatly increase skin cancer risk and reduce Vitamin D production in the name of avoiding skin cancer, and increase our risk of more widespread diseases related to Vitamin D deficiency.
The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics:
Sunscreens protect against sunburn, but there is no evidence that they protect against basal cell carcinoma or melanoma. Problems lie in the behavior of individuals who use sunscreens to stay out longer in the sun than they otherwise would. Vitamin D inhibition is, at this stage, unlikely due to insufficient use by individuals. Safety of sunscreens is a concern, and sunscreen companies have emotionally and inaccurately promoted the use of sunscreens.
A safer option
Mineral sunscreens are typically considered a safer option, but with a few caveats. Some mineral sunscreens also contain some of the chemical ingredients above and have the same risks. Additionally, if nano particles of zinc oxide or titanium oxide are used, these can enter the body and carry risks as well.
Internal sun protection
Another important step to protecting the skin from sun damage is supporting the body internally.
Iit is important to avoid foods that increase inflammation, such as:
- Processed vegetable oils
And to focus on foods and healthy fats that support skin health, including:
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin C
- Moringa tea
- Nettle tea