The Scary Link Between Sunscreen and Cancer

In Cancer, Featured Article, Health Warning, Skin Cancer

Summer is quickly approaching. And soon Americans will be slathering on the sunscreen. Why? Because that’s what dermatologists recommend. It’s supposed to prevent skin cancer.

Sunscreen is also a big moneymaker for the personal care industry. And summertime means big bucks at the cash register.

But what if you found out sunscreen is actually increasing your chances of cancer? That it causes allergies, hormonal problems, cell damage… and even low birth weights among baby girls?

Would you still use it? Would you put it on your kids?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a consumer watchdog based in Washington, D.C. Researchers there conducted a study. Here’s what they found: Most sunscreens contain a harmful ingredient. It’s called oxybenzone.

You’ll find oxybenzone in 600 sunscreens. That includes sunscreens made by top name-brand companies like Coppertone and Banana Boat.

Not only that… There’s growing evidence that the sunscreens on the market do little to protect you from cancer.

Rebecca Sutton is an environmental chemist. She’s a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. And she works with the EWG.

Her organization conducted a study. It found 84 percent of the sunscreens on the market to be ineffective.

Sutton says the FDA has ignored findings from the CDC in addition to other reports. And it’s caving in to the cosmetic industry at the expense of consumers.

Her organization has called on the FDA to set sunscreen standards. The FDA promised to do so. But the project has been delayed for 12 years.

“These studies are the latest in a long list of reasons the Food and Drug Administration must thoroughly review the safety of all chemicals used in sunscreens Americans use every day,” Sutton said. “FDA must do what it promised 30 years ago: Enact permanent, enforceable federal safety standards for sunscreens so consumers can get the best and safest sun protection.”

Yet, dermatologists and the cosmetic industry continue to push them.

Clearly, there’s more to this story. And NHD got to the bottom of it.

The Sun’s Misunderstood Effects on the Body

Sunscreen is designed to combat a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s based on the notion that the sun isn’t good for you. And that you’ll get skin cancer if you’re outside too long.

But that’s a fallacy. Plenty of research shows otherwise. Sunlight is actually a cancer-preventer.

You just have to know which ultraviolet rays are good for you… and which ones aren’t.

The sun gives off both Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. By stimulating your body’s production of vitamin D, UVB rays help your body stave off breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancers.

UVA gets deeper into your skin. It can lead to sunburn and cell damage. That produces free radicals… and those are harmful to your health.

The Scary Link Between Sunscreen and Increased Incidence of Melanoma

Sunscreen is designed to absorb or reflect ultraviolet radiation. But some sunscreens don’t block UVA rays – the radiation that causes skin cancer. They block UVB radiation, which is what your body needs.

Sunscreens also contain harmful chemicals. These can be absorbed into the skin and the bloodstream.

Dr. Loren Pickart is a biochemist. He’s also a leading expert on reversing aging in humans. He’s studied the sunscreen issue extensively. According to his website,

“Worldwide the greatest rise in melanoma has been experienced in countries where chemical sunscreens have been heavily promoted. The rise in melanoma has been exceptionally high in Queensland, Australia, where the medical establishment has vigorously promoted the use of sunscreens. Queensland now has more incidences of melanoma per capita than any other place on earth.”

Oxybenzone is one of 16 active ingredients found in sunscreen. It absorbs and deflects UV radiation. The FDA first approved the chemical in 1978. The agency developed new rules for the labeling and development of sunscreen products in 1999. But the regulations only covered UVB radiation, not UVA, which is what puts you most at risk for cancer.

In 1992, the National Toxicology Program conducted studies on rats and mice. They found that the chemical had an adverse effect on their kidneys and livers. It disturbed females’ reproductive cycle. And in males it affected sperm density.

The jury is still out on what impact it could have on humans.

The Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) continues to defend the products. The organization released a statement in which they said:

“Consumers can be confident in the safety of the sunscreens they buy for themselves and their families because all sunscreens sold in the U.S. are regulated as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which requires them to go through a rigorous scientific assessment and approval process that includes safety and performance testing before marketing.”

The CDC study surveyed 2,500 Americans. Six years old and up. They found oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, present in 97 percent of them. Females of all ages had higher levels than males.

The Mt. Sinai School of Medicine study was released a day earlier. It found a link between high levels of oxybenzone and low female birth weights. The study was published in the Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal put out by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Oxybenzone can disrupt the hormone system. And it can cause cell damage and allergic reactions. As pointed out by the EWG:

“A previous bio-monitoring study reported that 96 percent of six- to eight-year-old girls had detectable amounts of oxybenzone in their urine. An earlier study detected oxybenzone in the urine of all 30 adult participants.”

Dr. Richard B. Setlow is a senior biophysicist emeritus at the US Department of Energy. He works in the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.

Researching the impact of vitamin D on cancer, his team noticed an interesting pattern. People who lived in regions closest to the equator, where they were exposed to more sun, were much less likely to die from colon, lung, breast, and prostate cancers.

Their results were published in the January 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Vitamin D reduces the death rate from internal cancer,” stated Setlow in a WebMD article.

So while most Americans are busy trying to prevent skin cancer, they might actually be putting themselves at risk for cancers that are more deadly.

You won’t hear that from the FDA or the cosmetic industry. But many health experts and advocacy groups are bringing the issue to light. Dr. Pickart is one of them. As noted on his website:

“For decades, irresponsible cosmetic companies and a small group of very vocal, publicity seeking dermatologists have strongly advocated that chemical sunscreens should be heavily applied before any exposure to sunlight, even in young children. They insisted that such sunscreen use would prevent skin cancer and protect your health. This was despite a lack of any adequate safety testing of these chemicals.”

What to Do Now?

So what precautions should you take?

Hiding from the sun isn’t the answer. In fact, experts recommend that you get a good 10-15 minutes of sunlight a day.

If you’re going to be in the sun for longer periods of time, protect yourself by wearing a cap or visor. Expose as little skin as you can. Be sure to cover the areas on your body the sun hits directly. If you still wind up with sunburn… we’ll talk about a way to ease your discomfort on Friday.

You can also find mineral-based sunscreens free of harmful chemicals. So visit your nearest natural health store to see what’s available.

And don’t forget about the beverage we told you about yesterday that can help you fight off skin cancer. Plus, there’s an all-natural pill you can take to protect your skin from the sun. You can read about that on Friday.

To your best health,

Michael Jelinek,
Managing Editor, NHD “Health Watch”