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What are the risks of using sunscreen?

Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgery
Chemical sunscreens don’t sit on the surface of the skin -- they soak into it and quickly find their way into the bloodstream. They scatter all over the body without being detoxified by the liver and can be detected in blood, urine and breast milk for up to two days after a single application.

Nine of the 15 chemical sunscreens are considered endocrine disruptors. Those are chemicals that interfere with the normal function of hormones. The hormones most commonly disturbed are estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid. Endocrine disruptors, like some ingredients in chemical sunscreens, can cause abnormal development of fetuses and growing children. They cause early puberty and premature breast development in girls, and small and undescended testicles in boys. They cause low sperm counts and infertility. Endocrine disruptors that act like estrogen can contribute to the development of breast and ovarian cancers in women, and other endocrine disruptors may increase the chance of prostate cancer in men.

Sounds pretty unsettling, doesn’t it? But there’s more. Chemical sunscreens function by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) light. In the process, some may get used up and mutate. Some generate DNA-damaging chemicals called “free radicals.” These may lead to cancers.

I’m pretty negative about chemical sunscreens, and while I do have to tell you that I believe they are not proven to cause cancer, as I have said before, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Stephen H. Atkins, PhD
Integrative Medicine

Many chemicals that are applied to the skin are absorbed directly into the bloodstream and sunscreens are no exception. A recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology measured the levels of chemicals called Benzophenones in the urine of women with Endometriosis and found that higher concentrations are associated with an increased risk of this condition. Endometriosis occurs when uterine tissue begins to grow outside the uterus. It is a painful condition that can also lead to infertility. Benzophenones are readily absorbed through the skin and mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. The estrogenic effect of these chemicals is more potent than BPA found in plastics and thermal register receipts. Studies done by the CDC have shown that 97% of people tested positive for these chemicals. The main one used in sunscreen is called oxybenzone.

What does this mean? Any chemical that has estrogenic activity is dangerous. Estrogen is a carcinogen when it is not balanced in the body. Adding chemicals that mimic estrogen increases the risk of hormone related cancers like breast, uterine, ovarian and prostate cancers. These chemicals may also be responsible for the high rates of early puberty. In the mid 1800’s the average age of menarche was 17 years old. In 1900 the average age was about 14 years old. Today it is around 12 years old with some girls starting puberty as young as 7 years old. Early puberty increases the risk of cancer later in life and is likely chemically induced.

What you can do? Don’t be so afraid of the sun. In order to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D you need about 20 minutes of full body exposure between the hours of 10am and 2pm.This is a healthy dose of sun exposure. You do not want to burn, but a little color is okay. After 20 minutes apply a non-toxic sunscreen.

How do I find a non-toxic sunscreen? Avoid any sunscreen that contains the chemicals oxybenzone or dioxybenzone, but that is not all. Sunscreens can contain many other chemicals that may be toxic and estrogenic. The safest sunscreens are those that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are natural minerals, not synthetic chemicals, which block UVA radiation and are safe.

Sunscreens may cause tightening or drying of the skin. In rare cases, sunscreens can cause skin symptoms including redness, swelling, acne, rashes, itching, stinging, clogged hair follicles, and pain in areas that are hairy.

Some people believe that using sunscreen increases the risk of not getting enough vitamin D, an important nutrient. However, this risk is not proven. If you are concerned about getting enough vitamin D, check with your doctor and consider adding more foods like fatty fish and vitamin D-enriched milk to your diet.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.