The short answer is Yes, and not just because they are a chemical soup full of endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. That part, scary as it is, is actually the least of your worries. The bigger problem is buying into the whole?the sun gives you skin cancer, sunscreen protects you, you are broken so you need intervention from modern medicine and big pharma’ myth.
If the sun was so awful, surely our ancestors would have all died from skin cancer. They slept in caves but they didn’t live in them. In fact, anthropological research strongly suggests that white skin developed as a way for humans to harvest more vitamin D from their skin as populations moved away from the equator. The darker your skin, the more exposure you need to make vitamin D.
It’s no accident that nature entrusted vitamin D production to the organ that is not only the most extensive but the one that comes into direct contact with the sun. The results of thousands of studies on vitamin D show that it can help prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, colon, lung, ovarian, breast, prostate and skin cancer. A randomized controlled trial on cancer incidence in postmenopausal women showed a 77% risk reduction for all cancers in those supplementing daily with 1,1000 IU vitamin D and calcium.
Beyond preventing cancer, vitamin D is crucial for heart, dental, immune, bone and mental health, protecting you from bacterial and viral infections, depression and dementia. Every one of your trillions of cells has a vitamin D receptor protein and over 2,000 genes respond to instructions from vitamin D.
In A critical review of Vitamin D and Cancer, William Grant observes: “Many more lives are lost because of insufficient solar UVB and vitamin D than from skin cancer and melanoma.”
According to accepted wisdom, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan and that when your skin goes brown in response to exposure to the sun, it’s a burn, no matter how light. I beg to differ. I can’t accept that the only way to avoid skin cancer is to hug the shade and, or cover myself from head to toe with a man-made cocktail of questionable ingredients, wear a floppy hat and sunglasses. I can’t believe that the 7 billion people on earth are in dire and immediate danger from the very thing that makes life on earth possible. Besides, why do I feel so darn good when I’ve been out in the sun?
The sun gives you skin cancer?
Consider these statements from a study published in the Lancet in 2004:
“Paradoxically, outdoor workers have a decreased risk of melanoma compared with indoor workers, suggesting that chronic sunlight exposure can have a protective effect.”
“It has long been realized that indoor workers have an increased risk for melanoma compared to those who work outdoors, suggesting that ultraviolet radiation is in some ways protective against this cancer.”
“Further, melanoma develops most often on the back of men and on the legs of women, areas that are not chronically exposed to the sun” (emphasis mine)
Other research has revealed that the survival rate for melanoma patients is greater in those who had previously spent more time in the sun.
So what’s going on here? In short, a tan protects you from sunburn, not sunscreen.
Emeritus Professor of Dermatology at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Dr. Sam Shuster, nails it: “Excessive avoidance and UV screening is a danger because it does not allow a tan, nature’s own sun block, to develop and as a result exposure is likely to cause sun-burn. The dogma, now fossilised in print, is that any tan is a sign of skin damage. Tell that to Darwin. Pigmented melanocytes in the skin are a system that protects it from excessive UV, which evolved long before the advent of sunscreens. Even if there was hard evidence that melanoma was UV-induced it would be all the more important to keep a protective tan.”
Sunscreen protects you?
Yes it does, from all the wrong things. Sunscreen is just wrong. When you go out into the sun and you start feeling a bit uncomfortable, that’s your body’s way of saying it has had enough. Sunscreen use, however, gives you a false sense of security, overriding your natural instincts.
The SPF on sunscreens is misleading, if not downright deceptive. SPF stands for sun protection factor against UVB rays. Sunscreens with an SPF of 15 filter out about 93% of UVB rays, so you would expect an SPF of 30 to double that but you would be wrong. SPF 30 filters out about 97% and SPF 50 roughly 98%. The difference between SPF 50 and SPF 100 is 1% but the price tag of the latter is always substantially higher. It’s a psychological ruse which should make you question everything else about sunscreens.
The Great Sunscreen Lie
UVBs are the ones you feel on your skin and the ones that result in redness and sunburn if you overdo it. UVB rays cause damage in the top layers of the skin but they are not your biggest worry. UVB rays only penetrate the atmosphere between 10 am and 3 pm in temperate climates in spring, summer and fall and not all in winter except in the tropics. They are at their strongest at solar noon. They are filtered out by clothing, glass, cloud cover and of course, sunscreens.
Sounds well and good until you realize that the most important hormone in your body, aka Vitamin D, is only produced in the skin when it is exposed to UVB rays – the ones that are strongest at midday. The longer length UVA rays, however, are around as long as the sun is in the sky and remain fairly constant no matter what the season is. 95% of the UV radiation that reaches us is UVA which goes straight through glass, clouds, your skin and �?protective’ sunscreen, unless it’s broad spectrum.
In other words, avoiding the sun at peak times, wearing most sunscreens and staying indoors but near windows does absolutely nothing to protect you from the UVA rays whilst blocking out the health promoting UVB ones. When your shadow is longer than your height (which means the sun is less than 50 degrees above the horizon) chances are slim to none that you can make vitamin D in your skin.
We are light dependent beings and sunlight is actually a nutrient we should be getting more of. A pioneer in the therapeutic use of light, Dr Jacob Liberman, says the human body is “truly a living photocell that is energized by the sun’s light.”
The eyes are the only external manifestation of the brain and communicate with the brain via the optic nerve. Bright sunlight hitting the optic nerve triggers your pituitary gland to secrete hormones which instruct melanocytes to start producing melanin. Which brings us to sunglasses. They were invented as a fashion accessory but have morphed into �?essential’ sun protection for every day wear. Sunglasses, however, block or change the quality of the light reaching the optic nerve. The result is less melanin production and more sunburn.
Bright light also reaches the pineal gland via the optic nerve. This gland, once thought of as redundant, (like your appendix and tonsils) is responsible for governing serotonin and melatonin levels. These two hormones work in concert to control your waking and sleeping patterns, among other things. Bright light results in serotonin production which gets converted to melatonin. Melatonin is an antioxidant supreme and is especially good at mopping up free radical damage in UV exposed cells. Ain’t nature great?
Your body is not broken! It has multiple self-healing and protective mechanisms that operate just fine without chemicals. Skin is built from the inside so what you put in your mouth matters more than what you put on the outside. An anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding sugar won’t hurt.
If you don’t trust your body, you can always listen to the experts, like dermatologist Dr Cynthia Bailey, who says: “The single biggest thing you can do to keep your skin looking young is to keep the sun off it 365 days a year. That means you need to love your sunscreen so you will want to wear it from sun up to sun down.” and: “Basically, just about everyone needs sunscreen, every day.”
She has a nifty formula for applying sunscreen too: “The formula for how much to apply is that the average size adult human wearing the average size bathing suite (I love that part) needs to apply 1 oz (a shot glass!) per application applied every 2 hours of uninterrupted sun exposure.” She admits: “It’s a lot of work.” If you get a tan (heaven forbid), it’s your own fault for not being generous enough with the sunscreen and “A tan means you need to rethink your strategy.”
Conspicuously absent from all this saccharin sweet advice is any suggestion that sunlight is natural and that diet is a contributing factor. She grudgingly touches on the importance of vitamin D but maintains you can get enough from food. If that doesn’t work, you can sunbathe, but only as “a last resort.” You can get your D levels tested but: “chances are, your level is just fine anyway and all that sun exposure is just nuking your DNA, making wrinkles, age spots and skin cancers.”
I’m not sure where Dr Bailey is getting her information but unless you can convince your butcher to stock reindeer meat, you cannot get enough vitamin D from food. Vitamin D deficiency is epidemic and chances are you are deficient if you avoid the sun.
The delightful doctor reveals just how a chemical sunscreen works. ”It actually is absorbed into your skin and blocks the sun’s rays with a chemical reaction that occurs inside your skin. The reaction creates a little heat, (making you feel hotter in the sun) as it breaks down the chemical sunscreen ingredients so that they aren’t there to protect you anymore. This means that your skin steadily runs out of chemical sunscreen when you’re in the sun.” She makes it sound like sunburn is a deficiency of chemicals and that pickling in them is acceptable.
I researched some of the ingredients of just one of the sunscreens sold on Dr Bailey’s site. Here’s what I found:
Product: Citrix Sunscreen SPF 40 (3.5 fl. oz.) Price $25
Ascorbyl Glucosamine, Ascorbyl Palmitate: vitamin C derivates used as antioxidants. They seem innocuous enough until you dig deeper. In the study Vitamin C derivative ascorbyl palmitate promotes ultraviolet-B-induced lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity in keratinocytes: “Our data suggest that, despite its antioxidant properties, ascorbic acid-6-palmitate may intensify skin damage following physiologic doses of ultraviolet radiation.”
C13-14 Isoparaffin: petroleum derivative used as a thickener
Ceresin: a mineral wax belonging to the isoparaffin family. Used as a thickener, can be a dermal irritant.
Cyclomethicone & Lauryl PEG/PPG-18/18 Methicone: silicone emulsifiers
Diazolidinyl Urea: urea is secreted naturally by the skin but this one is synthetic. Man-made ureas have been shown to release formaldehyde, a carcinogen.
Methylparaben & Propylparaben: Parabens are estrogen mimics used extensively as preservatives in cosmetics. They have a nasty habit of accumulating in breast tissue and have been linked to breast cancer. Parabens are also endocrine disruptors.
Polyacrylamide: used as a film former and stabilizer, polyacrylamide is supposedly non-toxic but can contain residual acrylamide, which is toxic and a probable carcinogen.
Propylene Glycol: aka PG, a petroleum derivative which is a synthetic liquid that absorbs water, used as a solvent and penetration enhancer in cosmetics. “PG penetrates the skin so quickly that the EPA warns factory workers to avoid skin contact, to prevent brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.”
Laureth-7: used as a surfectant and produced by chemically manipulating lauric acid (from coconut oil) Coconut oil is great, synthetic laureth-7, not so much. It may contain impurities like the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane.
Tocopheryl Acetate: this is vitamin E mixed with ascetic acid (vinegar) – sounds harmless enough and is found in many different products. However, studies have shown that there may be “enhancement of photocarcinogenesis”, meaning it may exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UV rays. Topical vitamin E is an antioxidant but it is destroyed by UV light.
Retinyl Palmitate (RP): an antioxidant that breaks down in UV light, generating free radical damage that is toxic to cells and DNA and may lead to…..cancer! Studies show that RP is photomutagenic and enhances photocarcinogenicity activity which accelerates the growth of skin tumors and malignant cells.
Octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate): the most commonly used UVB blocker. It penetrates the skin readily and bioaccumulates, which means you absorb it faster than you can get rid of it. It increases estrogen in cells and decreases the amount of thyroid hormones in the blood.
So what you have here is a dermatologist-approved laundry list of synthetic ingredients that interfere not only with your ability to make a life-saving vitamin, but also with your skin’s natural capacity to protect itself. Not to mention the hormone disrupters, the carcinogens and the cumulative and synergistic effect of all these artificial substances you are supposed to liberally slather on your largest organ. And they say the sun is dangerous.
We are urged to read the labels on cosmetics, back and front, to gauge the safety of the product. Even if you can read the mouse print without a magnifying glass, will you understand it and how do you pick and choose from an array of 60 or more products on the supermarket shelf? By the time I was halfway through with the ingredients above, I was losing the will to live, and I was sitting behind a computer.
WebMd advises: “Look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following …..ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide.” I didn’t have the energy to go into all of these because avobenzone sucked what little enthusiasm I had left right out of me. It seems avobenzone is problematic in that tests showed it “presented a pronounced phototoxicity enhancement that was UVA dose dependent.”
“Phototoxicity, also called photoirritation, is a chemically induced skin irritation, requiring light… The skin response resembles an exaggerated sunburn.” (Thanks Wikipedia)
But you shouldn’t let that worry you because top manufacturers have managed to stabilize it with the likes of Tinosorb S or bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine, octocrylene (2-ethylhexyl ester) and diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate. You can also buy a combination of diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalatate, avobenzone and oxybenzone which is sold under the much more poetic sounding name of Helioplex™. Does your head hurt yet?
What are the long term effects of all these chemicals that millions of people are zealously smearing on their bodies, sometimes daily? Nobody knows. The FDA’s website has this comforting information: “Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with FDA.” Enough said.