The Dangers of Sunscreen
Summer is upon us! The brutal heat. The thick humidity. Ahhhh…but we have the beach and the lake as our respite. And it’s the only time of year most of get that radiant golden glow from mother sun.
So, raise your hand if you slather yourself and your kids in sunscreen every summer to stop the burn but still get some color. The higher SPF the better – right? And, if you’re a woman, most likely it’s in your beauty products and face creams and you wear it on your skin every day of the year. Sadly, the chemical sunscreens meant to protect us and our loved ones are harming us and our environment deeply and contributing to cancer.
200% Increase in Skin Cancer
Depending on your generation (being smothered in baby oil laying on foil mats was our thing), sunscreen is just part of summer – a MUST DO all day, every day when at the beach or outside. If we only knew … after decades of research and a 200% increase in skin cancer between 1975 and 2013 (the mid-1970s is when sunscreen became a recommendation), the truth about chemical sunscreens is starting to come out.
The use of some chemical sunscreen can reduce new squamous cell skin cancer, “but has no effect on basal cell and may actually contribute to the development of the more aggressive malignant melanoma.” See the following statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. An estimated 4.3 million cases of BCC are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. More than 1 million cases of SCC are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, resulting in more than 15,000 deaths.
- One person dies of melanoma every hour.
- In the past decade (2008 – 2018) the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed annually has increased by 53 percent.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “Americans are being diagnosed with melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – at steadily spiraling rates.”
Sunscreen Absorbs the Sun’s Rays
“But if I wear sunscreen I can stay outside all day. It’s waterproof and says it lasts for hours. I’m protecting myself from skin cancer,” you say. Guess again.
Part of the reason for the rise of skin cancer is the false sense of security sunscreen provides. Most people feel that if they put it on throughout the day, they can be in the sun for hours. And those same people usually end up sunburned.
Sunscreen actually absorbs the UVB (and some UVA) rays, though many don’t have full UVA protection. Sunburns are caused by deep UVA radiation which causes the deadliest of skin cancers, not to mention the breakdown of collagen and healthy cells (can you say irreversible wrinkles?).
Serious Sunscreen Hazards
As if wrecking our skin and potential cancer isn’t enough, other serious issues beyond smothering our largest breathing organ with chemical sunscreens include long-term health concerns and the massive impact it’s having on our wildlife.
- EWG research: “84% of 910 name-brand sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun or contain ingredients like oxybenzone with significant safety concerns.”
- Manufactured sunscreen chemicals pose significant health risks by being absorbed into skin, entering the bloodstream and mother’s milk. These chemicals have been proven to cause estrogen, testosterone, androgen, and reproduction disruption, thyroid and behavioral alterations, have links to endometriosis and other female cancers, cause low birth weights, and severe skin irritations.
- “More than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer were treated in over 3.3 million people in the U.S. in 2012, the most recent year new statistics were available.”
- “More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.”
- A 2008 headline from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical.” They found oxybenzone contamination in 97 percent of people living in the U.S.
Killing Aquatic Ecosystems
Currently, 14,000 tons (28,000,000 pounds) of sunscreen ends up in America’s rivers, lakes, and oceans annually. Sunscreen washes off while swimming and enters our sewage and water systems through showering. This sunscreen wash-off problem is creating a disastrous outcome for our fish and water wildlife and causes coral reef damage that is worse than environmental coral bleaching.
According to Craig Downs, the executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory based in Clifford, Va., these chemicals damage coral reef DNA, inhibit its ability to reproduce, cause deformations, bleaching, endocrine disruption, and is having the same effect on the rest of the ocean’s delicate ecosystem.
When coral reefs die, so do our oceans. It’s really as simple as that. Way to go, Hawaii! May 1st, Hawaii was the first state to pass a bill banning the sale of chemical sunscreens.
Toxic Warning Label
So what are these horrible toxic chemicals in our sunscreens and cosmetics? The most toxic is Oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is also known as benzophenone-3. It absorbs sunlight and is the most common sunscreen found in lip products, lotions, and cosmetics. It is the highest ranking toxic ingredient according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) who investigates sunscreens and creates an annual list of the worst and best based on scientific testing. And Europe isn’t too keen on it either.
The European Chemical Agency uses the following labeling for products that include oxybenzone.
“Hazard classification & labeling…Warning! According to the classification provided by companies to ECHA in REACH registrations, this substance is very toxic to aquatic life and is toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.”
“Additionally, the classification provided by companies to ECHA in CLP notifications identifies that this substance causes serious eye irritation, causes skin irritation, and may cause respiratory irritation.”
It’s quite shocking that the FDA and our regulatory agencies who were formed to protect us (don’t get me started on that topic!) allow this and other toxic ingredients in our products and our children’s products.
What Ingredients to Avoid
Our skin is our biggest organ. It has its own immune competent cells and needs to breathe; it is a direct line to our bloodstream. Smothering it in oxybenzone and other toxic chemicals (many “poly” “propyl” and “ene” ingredients are petroleum-based plastics) for 50-70 years will bring about dangerous and often fatal health issues.
According to the EWG and other scientific entities, AVOID these sunscreen chemicals:
- Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate)
- PABA (Aminobenzoic Acid)
- Mexoryl SX
- Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A) “In sunlight, retinyl palmitate can form free radicals that damage DNA and lead to cancer (NTP 2000).”
The Best Sunblock Options
The best sunblock options are naturally refined minerals that sit on top of the skin to reflect the sun’s rays and do not harm the environment. These include:
- Zinc Oxide – protects against UVB, UVA1 and UVA2 radiation
- Titanium Oxide – protects against UVB and UVA2 radiation
Safe Sunscreen Options
If you have purchased sunscreen for your summer days on the lake, it may be time to dispose of it as hazardous waste and buy a brand that will keep you safe. There is a large selection of all-natural “reef safe” UVA and UVB sunblocks and sunscreens available, mostly online. Not only do they contain minerals for sun blocking, they are full of wonderful oils and ingredients to keep skin and lips beautiful and nourished.
Look for these and other “Reef Safe” sunscreen lotions, sprays, waxes, and lip balms:
- TotLogic Reef Safe Natural Sunscreen
- Goddess Garden Organics
- Tropical Sands
- All Good Sunscreens
- Raw Love
- Manda Sun Paste
- Badger “All Natural” Sunscreen Cream
- Raw Elements Face + Body
- Eir NYC Surf Mud ProStick
- The Honest Company (does not have the “reef safe” label but is all natural)
You can also make your own skin nourishing sunblock by mixing raw, organic shea butter, which has a natural SPF of 6, and non-nano, all-natural powdered zinc oxide. Both are available with a recipe from a company I love called Better Shea Butter.
But I Want to Get a Tan
If you want a healthy glow and the life-giving benefits of Vitamin D, go into the sun without sunblock for 20 minutes per day, all year long, as recommended by many holistic doctors. Then put your sunblock on and feel the glory of nature.
So go ahead, Sungoddess, Beach Bum, and Zimzala – get out there and enjoy summer while nourishing your skin, caring for our delicate ecosystem, and sharing this information with others.
- Environmental Working Group, ewg.org
- American Academy of Dermatology, aad.org
- Skin Cancer Foundation, skincancer.org
- Dr. Mercola, articles.mercola.com
- The Manual, themanuel.com
- The NY Times, nytimes.com