Recently my social media stream has been full of posts about the “hidden dangers of sunscreen.” Upon clicking through, my initial reaction was fear. The sunscreen I use every day, and the one I’ve been using on my children for years, was listed as dangerous.
Could my sunscreen actually cause cancer?
Rather than taking the information at face value and buying into the media hype, I dug a little deeper into the safety and efficacy of sunscreens. My conclusion? We all need to take a deep breath and calm down.
Here are the facts (not the hype) about sunscreens:
Sunscreens work best when they are used regularly and consistently.
As a pale person, I don’t leave the house without applying sunscreen. Ever. I wear a high SPF sunscreen because after years of experimenting, that is what keeps me from getting burned. Lists of “safe” sunscreens, often only recommended zinc based products. Yes, these products work well, however they are very thick, clog pores, and leave a white residue. Thanks, but I’m not interested in the kabuki look. Again, the key is to use the sunscreen consistently, so finding one that is easy to use, feels good on the skin, and doesn’t cause breakouts is important.
The science doesn’t add up.
There has been great hue and cry over some ingredients in sunscreens. Some even claim those ingredients cause cancer. However, there is no verifiable scientific evidence to prove any of these ingredients cause cancer. The ingredients have in fact been rigorously tested. Here are the facts as reported by numerous independent scientific sources:
Oxybenzone: One of the studies often sited involved mice that were fed oxybenzone. Misunderstanding the results of this study caused some people to claim the chemical, when applied to the skin and not ingested, could cause cancer. This is in no way supported by the results of the study. Research on humans has shown the chemical applied to the skin is safe.
Retinyl Palmitate: This chemical is a form of vitamin A and some people claim it speeds the growth of tumors based on a study that was never published in a peer reviewed journal. There is no evidence retinyl palmitate or vitamin A does anything other than prevent skin cancer.
Nanoparticles: The concern that the small size of these chemical particles would allow them to penetrate the skin, attack DNA, and cause cell mutation is unfounded. Nanoparticles cannot penetrate live skin. The entire point of these chemicals is to apply them to the outside of the skin to create a barrier of protection. Some people are also concerned that breathing these nanoparticles while applying spray-on sunscreen will cause mutation. Experts suggest the only real concern about spray-on sunscreen is that people do not apply enough of the product, which leads to a false sense of protection.
You only need a little sun to get vitamin D.
Go ahead, use the sunscreen. Your body will still convert sunlight to vitamin D. On average, we only need about 15 minutes of sun exposure to get the vitamin D we need. The small decrease in vitamin D conversion that may be caused by a sunscreen in minor. Too much sun exposure actually destroys vitamin D, so relying on diet based sources such as milk products and oily fish may be the better strategy.
Sunscreen is just one tool in protecting yourself from skin cancer.
Experts agree that a full package of sun protection involves sunscreen as well as wearing a hat and other sun protective clothing, staying in the shade when possible, and avoiding tanning beds.
Skin cancer is a serious concern. According to the the Skin Cancer Foundation one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetimes and more than two million new skin cancers are diagnosed every year. Skin cancer prevention is essential. Be smart about sun exposure, know the facts, and use the sunscreen that works the best for you.