As you know, we take not only a pro-vitamin D stance on this website, we also believe that the very best and most natural way to get your vitamin D is from exposure to just the right amount of the right wavelengths of solar UVB radiation. We believe in avoiding the extremes at either end of the spectrum – total sun avoidance versus unmitigated exposure. We know that going to either extreme is a bad idea since one leads to skin cancer and the other leads to vitamin D deficiency. We believe there is a middle path, not yet exactly determined by scientific research, which would represent the best combination of the health benefits from sunshine and acceptable levels of skin cancer risk. We also believe that while there is an appropriate way to use sunscreens within this context, we must recognize as well that there are good sunscreens and bad sunscreens. It’s high time that we really get the skinny on sunscreens. Here are some things you should know:
Protection Claims May Be Misleading. That may sound hard to believe, but take the United States as an example, where the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these products. Yes, under the FDA’s current rules, just about every sunscreen product can claim not only “broad spectrum” skin protection, but also that the products reduce the risk of skin cancer. But here’s the catch: US criteria for sunscreens are the weakest in the world! Fully half of US sunscreens would never even make it on the shelves in Europe, where rules are much stricter. The biggest problem is that while most sunscreens do in fact screen out the UVB rays that cause sunburns on the surface of the skin, they mostly don’t screen out UVA rays, and now there’s growing concern that UVA rays can cause as much damage as UVB rays. Maybe that’s why in spite of our paranoid approach to sun exposure over the last couple of decades, rates of skin cancer have continued to climb, not only tripling in the last 35 years, but steadily increasing annually at an average rate of 1.9%. Super-high SPF ratings mean nothing if the product isn’t filtering out a whole chunk of damaging radiation the way it leads you to believe it is.
Many Sunscreen Products are Potentially Unsafe. That almost sounds scary, but it’s true. Both sunscreen sprays and powders (like makeup with SPF protection) have toxic ingredients that shouldn’t be allowed, but regulatory agencies keep dragging their feet and not acting. Powder products may contain zinc and titanium nanoparticles that shouldn’t be inhaled. Many products contain vitamin A (retinyl palmitate or retinol), which has been linked to hastening the development of tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin. Then there are products with Oxybenzone, which triggers allergic reactions in many sensitive people and may even be a hormone disrupter.
The Environmental Working Group does an extensive study each year of sunscreen products in the United States. In their 2013 assessment of more than 750 products, only 25% could be said to offer good protection without potentially harmful ingredients.
Sources for Further Reading: