There’s no question about it, protecting our skin from the sun is vital. But how we do it is subject to much debate due to harmful sunscreen chemicals that may have the exact opposite effect of protecting our skin.
What are Sunscreen Chemicals?
Most sunscreen brands on the market use chemical filters that include a combination of active ingredients. There are 15 chemicals used in sunscreens but the most common include avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octocrylene and octisalate. These sunscreen chemicals are designed to absorb into skin and block or filter UV light from seeping into our bodies.
Sunscreen has been manufactured and mass marketed in the U.S. since 1944. It has become a billion dollar business. Unfortunately, most of that revenue comes from sales of dangerous chemical-based sunscreens, all of which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration despite evidence they may be toxic.
Why are Sunscreen Chemicals Dangerous?
There are two major problems that result from sunscreen chemicals: abnormalities in the endocrine system that doles out our body’s hormones and potential risk of cancer. Yes, cancer, the very disease we’re trying to avoid by wearing sunscreen in the first place.
Of the 15 most common sunscreen chemicals, nine of them are endocrine disruptors. When sunscreen chemicals absorb into skin they go directly into the bloodstream. The liver is unable to detoxify the body of these chemicals, which can be detected in breast milk, urine and blood for up to two days after application. This is a problem when more than half of sunscreen chemicals can cause hormonal issues.
Sunscreen chemicals can easily manipulate the endocrine system by mimicking our body’s natural hormones and altering their course. Hormones most affected by sunscreen chemicals are reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone, androgen and testosterone. Disrupting these hormones may result in breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer, as well as fertility issues like low sperm count in men. In utero, sunscreen chemicals can cause low birth weight, developmental issues and birth defects in growing fetuses. As adolescents hit puberty, sunscreen chemicals have been linked to premature development of breasts, endometriosis and smaller and un-descended testicles. The thyroid hormone can also be damaged by these harmful chemicals.
The other issue with chemical sunscreens is their potential to cause cancer. Just as the chemicals emulate and mutate hormones, they have the ability to do the same with cells. This can lead to damaged DNA from the attack of free radicals that oxidize cells. The result can cause cancer. And that’s not just skin cancer, it can lead to cancer in a variety of areas in the body.
Avobenzone and oxybenzone are two of the worst chemical sunscreen ingredients. They are known to cause skin irritation, a range of hormonal concerns listed above and may also render sunscreens ineffective when exposed to sunlight. In fact, sunscreen deteriorates pretty quickly after application. After approximately one hour sunscreen loses 90% of its effectiveness. It must be reapplied often regardless of the time recommendations and water-resistance indicated on the packaging.
There are alternative mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They work by reflecting the sun’s UV rays and have shown lower toxicity than chemical sunscreens.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient required by every human being. About 20 minutes a day of sunlight can provide an adequate amount of Vitamin D. Otherwise, sun safety measures should be taken at all times. Protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and shade are the safest and simplest ways to ensure skin is out of harm’s way.