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5 Harmful Side Effects Of Sunscreen: How To Stay Safe

Most commercial sunscreens contain harmful substances like oxybenzone, triclosan, parabens, and phthalates. These compounds disrupt hormonal functioning, can cause cell damage and mutation, and increase the risk of cancer. Try and find sunscreens that use titanium and zinc as the active ingredient as well as natural oils like coconut oil, shea butter, and carrot oil. Some sun exposure can also be beneficial to get the required amount of vitamin D.

Most of us lather on sunscreen whenever we expect to have even the slightest bit of sun exposure. And we’re often told to do just that, because the risk of not doing so is contracting skin cancer from exposure to UV rays. However, new studies seem to suggest that sunscreen may be causing more harm than good.

1. Disrupts Hormones

Studies show that oxybenzone, triclosan, parabens, and phthalates, have the ability to disrupt the functioning of hormones. These ingredients are commonly found in commercial sunscreens. Studies showed that when adolescents switched to cleaner products without these compounds, the levels of these chemicals in their systems dropped quickly, so it’s worth switching to products free of these chemicals.1

2. Damages Cells

Oxybenzone, a popular chemical in commercial sunscreens, is used because it absorbs UV light. However, it can also cause hormone disruptions and cause potential cell damage.2 It seems to inhibit cell growth and interferes in the process of DNA synthesis as well. Potentially this could cause genetic mutations. Studies have linked oxybenzone to endometriosis in older women. Women with higher levels of oxybenzone during pregnancy had lower birth weight daughters.3

3. Promotes Growth Of Cancer Cells

The damage that these chemicals do can cause the growth of cancer cells. The genetic mutations that they cause can potentially lead to the development of cancer.4

4. Increases Risk Of Breast Cancer

Studies show that chemicals used in sunscreen called benzophenones can imitate the effects of excess estrogen in the body.5 This increases the risk of developing diseases like breast cancer.

5. Promotes Skin Tumors And Lesions

Retinyl Palmitate or Vitamin A Palmitate is a substance used in several skincare products due to the fact that it is an antioxidant which reduces aging. However, research shows that rats that were treated with vitamin A formulation topically showed a faster spread of skin tumors and lesions.6

How To Choose The Right Sunscreen

Try to find sunscreens that don’t include the above mentioned active ingredients. Instead, try to find ones that use titanium and zinc minerals. These ingredients tend to provide a physical barrier than a chemical barrier between the UV rays and your skin. The good news is that these ingredients do not penetrate the skin unlike the chemical compounds mentioned earlier.7 There are also plenty of natural sunscreens available that use ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter, and carrot oil which have their own natural SPF value.8 Just make sure that the product you buy has a minimum SPF of 30.

Is The Sun Really That Bad For You?

Most of us use sunscreen out of the fear that exposure to the sun will cause skin cancer. The truth is that only 10% of cancer cases are attributed to any kind of radiation and out of that UV accounts for very little.9 In fact, studies suggest that some exposure to the sun can actually help prevent the development and spread of skin cancer. In fact, patients with melanoma seem to show a higher likelihood of survival and remission if they get more occasional sun exposure.10

Judging by that data, it might be a good idea to ditch the sunscreen every now and then if you’re going to be in the sun for a short while. Experts do agree that sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. Evidence shows that Vitamin D helps prevent include several bone diseases, muscle weakness, more than a dozen types of internal cancers, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes mellitus.11

Caution: If your skin starts to turn pink, then your skin is starting to experience sun damage, so find some shade as soon as possible or lather on some natural sunscreen which doesn’t contain harmful compounds. The best sun protection is to stay in the shade and wear hats and long clothing.

While commercial sunscreen can contain these harmful substances, there are alternatives available. Remember that in any case, some amount of sun exposure can do you good. If you are worried about damage, shade and protective clothing is the way to go.

References   [ + ]

1. Harley, Kim G., Katherine Kogut, Daniel S. Madrigal, Maritza Cardenas, Irene A. Vera, Gonzalo Meza-Alfaro, Jianwen She et al. “Reducing phthalate, paraben, and phenol exposure from personal care products in adolescent girls: findings from the Hermosa intervention study.” Environmental health perspectives 124, no. 10 (2016): 1600.
2. Schlumpf, Margret, Beata Cotton, Marianne Conscience, Vreni Haller, Beate Steinmann, and Walter Lichtensteiger. “In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens.” Environmental health perspectives 109, no. 3 (2001): 239.
3. Janjua, Nadeem Rezaq, Brian Mogensen, Anna-Maria Andersson, Jørgen Holm Petersen, Mette Henriksen, Niels E. Skakkebæk, and Hans Christian Wulf. “Systemic absorption of the sunscreens benzophenone-3, octyl-methoxycinnamate, and 3-(4-methyl-benzylidene) camphor after whole-body topical application and reproductive hormone levels in humans.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology 123, no. 1 (2004): 57-61.
4, 5. Schlumpf, Margret, Beata Cotton, Marianne Conscience, Vreni Haller, Beate Steinmann, and Walter Lichtensteiger. “In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens.” Environmental health perspectives 109, no. 3 (2001): 239.
6. Kawamura, Yoko, Yuko Ogawa, Tetsuji Nishimura, Yutaka Kikuchi, Jun-ichi Nishikawa, Tsutomu Nishihara, and Kenichi Tanamoto. “Estrogenic activities of UV stabilizers used in food contact plastics and benzophenone derivatives tested by the yeast two-hybrid assay.” Journal of Health Science 49, no. 3 (2003): 205-212.
7. Crosera, Matteo, Andrea Prodi, Marcella Mauro, Marco Pelin, Chiara Florio, Francesca Bellomo, Gianpiero Adami et al. “Titanium dioxide nanoparticle penetration into the skin and effects on HaCaT cells.” International journal of environmental research and public health 12, no. 8 (2015): 9282-9297.
8. Korać, Radava R., and Kapil M. Khambholja. “Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation.” Pharmacognosy reviews 5, no. 10 (2011): 164.
9. Anand, Preetha, Ajaikumar B. Kunnumakara, Chitra Sundaram, Kuzhuvelil B. Harikumar, Sheeja T. Tharakan, Oiki S. Lai, Bokyung Sung, and Bharat B. Aggarwal. “Cancer is a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes.” Pharmaceutical research 25, no. 9 (2008): 2097-2116.
10. Rosso, Stefano, Francesco Sera, Nereo Segnan, and Roberto Zanetti. “Sun exposure prior to diagnosis is associated with improved survival in melanoma patients: results from a long-term follow-up study of Italian patients.” European Journal of Cancer 44, no. 9 (2008): 1275-1281.
11. Grant, William B., and Michael F. Holick. “Benefits and requirements of vitamin D for optimal health: a review.” Altern Med Rev 10, no. 2 (2005): 94-111.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.