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What you must know about the chemicals in your sunscreen

by , 27 July 2015

You probably don't need to be told (again) how important wearing sunscreen is for reducing your risk of skin cancer, not to mention sunburns and signs of premature ageing (think wrinkles).

But go ahead and Google “best sunscreens” or even “sunscreen,” and plenty of articles pop up suggesting that the ingredients in many of these products could be harmful or even toxic, leaving you to worry about what's really going on your skin. And maybe even wonder whether it's actually safer to go outside without a protective spray or lotion?

The answer: No! In fact, dermatologists are adamant that we should be more worried about shielding our skin from the sun's harmful UV rays than about the chemical makeup of the products we're using to do that.

Here's what you need to know about the harmful chemicals in your sunscreen…

Firstly - sunscreen will only reduce skin cancer if you use it properly

“Five million Americans are treated for skin cancer each year, and an estimated 9,940 people will die of melanoma—the deadliest type of skin cancer—in 2015,” Steven Wang, MD, head of dermatological surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Basking Ridge in Basking Ridge, New Jersey reported.
 
“The biggest precaution that you should be taking is using sunscreen. There is enough research at this point from various credible bodies that say sunscreens are safe and, when used appropriately, will reduce skin cancer.”
 

Why you might have heard that sunscreen could be dangerous

So, where are people getting the idea that the chemicals in certain sunscreens are potentially hazardous?
 
For starters, there has been much concern about chemicals thought to be endocrine discruptors in our everyday environment in recent years. Proven endocrine disruptors, which include bisphenol-A and pesticides like DDT, can mimic the hormone estrogen in the body, which may increase risk in humans for low fertility, endometriosis, and certain cancers.
 
Most recently in regards to sunscreen, a report this year from the Environmental Working Group (a non-profit advocacy organisation) once again made reference to “worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone and Vitamin A” commonly found in these protective products.
 
But the thing is, the actual research on the effects of these “worrisome” ingredients in sunscreen may have been blown out of proportion.

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Take this 2008 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, for example, which examined concentrations of benzophenonone-3 (AKA BP-3, or oxybenzone) in residents of the United States. The researchers concluded that while exposure to the chemical was prevalent in the population studied, “human exposure to BP-3 has not been associated with adverse health effects.”
 
Some studies do suggest that the chemical could potentially have effects on the endocrine system, but, the scientists explain, that research was conducted on animals—including some in which mice and rats were fed oxybenzone orally—and animal tissue isolated in labs.
 
In 2011, Dr Wang and colleagues published a research letter in JAMA Dermatology titled: “Safety of Oxybenzone: Putting Number into Perspective.” For that paper, the researchers, took the dose used in one of the most worrisome studies on oxybenzone in rats and determined that an equivalent dose in humans would amount to almost 35 years of daily, full-body application.
 
And even though there is evidence that your skin absorbs oxybenzone and excreted via urine, the authors of another 2004 paper concluded that despite the presence of the chemical in participants’ urine, they observed no hormonal changes that could be traced back to the sunscreen exposure.
 
As for vitamin A, commonly found in products like sunscreen in the form of retinyl palmitate, the backlash stems from findings from the National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is a U.S. government program that tests and evaluates chemicals in our environments. 
 
One of the NTP’s oft-cited experiments found that retinyl palmitate cream applied to hairless mice exposed to UV radiation in a lab increased the incidence of skin tumors as well as the speed at which the tumors developed, compared to control groups of mice that weren’t covered in the cream.

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But again, this isn’t comparable to the effects of this additive in human skin because, for one thing, the researchers looked at retinyl palmitate “in isolation,” according to a 2010 critical analysis in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant naturally found in human skin, along with vitamins C and E. And these three actually work together in a way that neutralises any negative effects, the researchers report.
 
On top of that, as the researchers write in response: “It is important to mention that the mice in the above NTP study are highly susceptible to develop skin cancer after UV exposure… mouse epidermis is significantly thinner than that of human beings, hence resulting in higher percutaneous absorption. Therefore, extreme caution is needed when extrapolating these animal study results to human beings.”
 

The takeaway: Apply your sunscreen as directed

The bottom line from the Skin Cancer Foundation: “Consumers should rest assured that sunscreen products including the ingredients oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate are safe and effective when used as directed. Both oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate—which is a form of vitamin A—are approved for use in sunscreens by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Go here to learn how to apply the right sunscreen for you. 

Editor’s Note: As you know by now, smoking is the root of many different cancers. Are you ready to find out the root of all cancers? In the April 2015 issue of the Natural Health Dossier, we let you in on this secret. To access this issue and others, join Natural Health Dossier today. It’s quick and easy!

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