Sunscreen, Worth It or Not?

I cannot think of a better first blog post than sunscreen in lieu of the start of summer!

From the words of Dr. Axe, “You should consider sunscreen your last resort to prevent sunburns. In Fact, there’s no clear evidence that using sunscreens actually prevents skin cancer – including in the best sunscreens – some ingredients may actually fuel skin cancer.”

Scary! I just got on the mineral based sunscreen band-wagon two summers ago. But, I never really dove into the toxicity and research available on these summer staples until now. What I found was very eye opening!

We all know how important the sun is to the health of not just our bodies but the whole earth. Every living thing needs the sun to survive. Why is the sun so beneficial to your body? It turns out, that warmth and shine has more than meets the eye when it comes to your health. Our hormones, emotional wellbeing, and immunity depend on the sun! So, if the sun is so good for you, should we be so fearful as to lather on the sunscreen before leaving the house and hide under an umbrella or should we get out there and enjoy the warmth and shine, sunscreen free? I would safely say, a little of both!

Here’s the thing, the thought of producing one of the most deadly forms of cancer (melanoma) is terrifying and if I can protect myself and my children from it by slathering on sunscreen all summer, then I will! But it turns out research is showing that they may actually be contributing to cancer risk or not providing as adequate protection as they claim. A 2016 report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 72% of sunscreens tested contain harmful ingredients!!! They also reported that the vast majority of sunscreens available for purchase in the US still contain toxic chemicals or fail to offer enough protection against ultraviolet rays. Dr. Axe claims, its important to note that there is no perfect sunscreen. “Many contain harmful chemicals, and even mineral based ones often contain nanoparticles, minute ingredients that can cross the blood brain barrier and also harm aquatic life.”

How does sunscreen increase some cancer risks? Toxins, chemicals and lack of sun exposure! In case your curious, as I was, I went on to research on how much actually breaks through the skin barrier and found very conflicting information and studies. What was universal is the area of skin being penetrated! Large pores soak in more than small pores, and your face has the ability to absorb more than anywhere else on your body. As far as the percentage of what gets through its somewhere between 4-60% depending on the ingredient. Yes, that’s right, not all lotions and potions you rub on your body will penetrate through equally. With that said, lets look at some of the common dangerous ingredients found in sunscreens.

  • Avobenzone – primary agent in commercial sunscreens due to its effectiveness in absorbing a wide range of ultraviolet rays. Current research is finding this chemical increases the risk of cancer and has been tied to a slew of allergies.
  • Fragrance – many contain hundreds of different aroma-producing chemicals and give a blanket term “artificial fragrance”. Cancer, nervous system disorders, allergies, and birth defects are just some of the shocking concerns linked to artificial fragrance.
  • Oxybenzone – this is very similar to avobenzone. But, this product is so toxic that its believed to be behind the increased rates of melanoma. Its also been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage.
  • Parabens – This commonly used preservative is everywhere these days. There are 18 different varieties. What makes them dangerous is that they are estrogen disruptors. Parabens have been associated with infertility, abnormal development of the testes, asthma, allergies, tumors of the uterus and digestive track, and breast cancer.

This is just a few and most common of the ingredients to look out for. Now that I’ve scared the bejesus out of you, lets take a look at the positive role the sun plays on our health. The biggest benefit we get from the sun, other than it being the largest and most important heat source our planet has, is Vitamin D!!! There are multiple ways to get vitamin D but the most efficient way for our bodies to absorb vitamin D is through the suns rays. Vitamin D deficiency, which is fairly common in our country has been linked with many different diseases and cancers. I’m not saying Vitamin D will cure your disease or cancer but vitamin D does play an extremely important role in your bodies immune system and defense against free radicals.

Dr. Mercola says, “Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that influences virtually every cell in your body, and is easily one of natures most pontent cancer fighters. Receptors that respond to vitamin D have been found in nearly every type of human cell, from your bones to your brain. Your organs can convert the vitamin D in your bloodstream into calcitriol, which is the hormonal or activated version of vitamin D. Your organs then use it to repair damage, including damage from cancer cells and tumors. Vitamin D’s protective effect against cancer works in multiple ways, including:

  • Increasing the self-destruction of mutated cells (which if allowed to replicate, could lead to cancer.)
  • Reducing the spread and reproduction of cancer cells.
  • Causing cells to become differentiated(cancer cells often lack differentiation)
  • Reducing the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones which is a step in the transition of dormant tumors turning cancerous.

A study by Dr. William Grant, Ph.D, Internationally recognized research scientist and Vitamin D expert, found that about 30 percent of cancer deaths- which amount to 2 million worldwide and 200,000 in the United States- could be prevented each year with higher levels of Vitamin D!”

So how much is too much? Most articles and journals I searched claim it depends on your skin type! But, we should be getting sensible sun exposure without sunscreen for 5-30 minutes at least 3 days per week. Anything more can put you at risk for developing a burn and skin cancer.

There are other options at increasing your Vitamin D levels but sun exposure is your best option, as it helps your body create vitamin D. You can take supplements and eat vitamin D-rich foods as well. More isn’t always better so if you are supplementing make sure you are getting your levels checked by your doctor, too much vitamin D can also be dangerous.

So what are the best or safer sunscreens out there per the EWG research? (I’ll list a few, if your interested in the whole list please visit their web site)

  • All Terrain AquaSport
  • Babo Botanicals
  • Babyganics Pure Mineral
  • Badger Sport
  • Blue lizard

Most toxic sunscreens to avoid (unfortunately most of these are the ones you see at your local mart)

  • Banana Boat
  • Coppertone
  • CVS wet and dry
  • Equate Kids
  • Neutrogena wet skin kids spray
  • Up and up kids

Shockingly (or maybe not too shockingly) Dr. Axe broke down the EWG findings and noted that about half of the sunscreens that the EWG reported on wouldn’t pass the more stringent European standards! Ahhh! 16% of beach sunscreens, 14% of moisutizers with spf, and 10% of lip products contained retinyl palmitate, an anti-aging antioxidant that may trigger skin tumors and lesions when sunlight hits it. Nearly 30% of the suncreens tested were sprays. Sprays pose inhalation risk and are hard to actually apply correctly. 70% of non-mineral based sunscreens contained the allergen and hormone disrupting chemical oxybenzone.

This summer, I will be stocking up on safer mineral based sunscreens! When looking at ingredients, less is best folks. I think balance and making better choices in products is most important. We get maybe 3 months of warm summer months here in the Midwest, lets get out and make the most of it!!

Article Resources:

Environmental working group, Sun Health, (2016)

Global healing center, Dr Edward Group (Aug, 19, 2014)

Dr. Mercola, Sun Exposure (May 28, 1015)

Dr. Axe, The Best Sunscreens and Toxic ones to Avoid. (2016)

Mind Body Green, 10 healing benefits of the sun, (Sept,1 2012), Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN (Nov. 9, 2015)











2 thoughts on “Sunscreen, Worth It or Not?

  1. Interesting post. The EWG is definitely a good source of info. We’re happy to be on their best sunscreens and best moisturizers with SPF lists this year (third year in a row). It can be overwhelming with all the choices so it’s good seeing summaries like this.


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