Sunscreen – protection or poison?

As a very fair-skinned mother of two small children, sunscreen is a hot topic for me and my family.  My husband has never let a drop touch his skin, but they don’t call him tan-man for nothing!  I am usually to be found under a shady tree for most of the summer (when I’m not stuck in my air-conditioned office!).  So although it might be rather late in the year to talk about sun protection, consider this an early warning for next summer and give yourself plenty of time to assess the alternatives.

Original by Michael Bloch of

The regular use of sunscreen lotion might provide some protection from sunburn, but it may also have quite serious health risks – for ourselves and the wider environment.

The sunscreen industry is huge – worth billions of dollars annually. It rose
to mega-profitability when a link was made between skin cancer and over-exposure to the sun in the late 60’s/early 1970’s. Yet the incidence of skin cancer
continues to rise even though these products are widely used.

The latest investigation by the Environmental Working Group of  over 1,700 sunscreens and other sun-blocking products currently on the market  found only one in five sunscreens earned high marks for safety and efficacy.   Leading brands were again this year among the worst offenders.

It’s quite disturbing what’s in some sunscreen preparations. Here’s a partial

Aminobenzoic acid – possible  carcinogen may be implicated in cardiovascular disease.

Avobenzone – possible carcinogen

Cinoxate – some evidence of skin toxicity

Dioxybenzone – strong evidence of skin  toxicity and possible carcinogen; hormone disruptor and has been found in  waterways, soil and air.  Has been shown to have a “gender bender” effect in  animals

Diazolidinyl urea – possible  carcinogen, endocrine, central nervous system and brain effects, skin toxicity an compromises the immune system

Ecamsule – may be carcinogenic

Homosalate – endocrine disruption

Methylparaben – interferes with genes

Octocrylene – found to be persistent and bioaccumulative in wildlife, liver issues and possible carcinogen

Octyl methoxycinnamate – accumulates in the body, may disrupt liver and is a possible carcinogen

Octyl salicylate – broad systemic effects in animals at moderate doses

Oxybenzone – possible carcinogen and contributor to vascular disease, may affect the brain and nervous system in animals

Padimate O – suspected carcinogen

Phenylbenzimidazole – possible carcinogen

Phenoxyethanol – irritant, possible carcinogen, endocrine disruption

Sulisobenzone – strong evidence of skin toxicity, affects sense organs in animals

Titanium dioxide – suspected carcinogen when in nanomaterial form

Zinc Oxide – bioaccumulative in wildlife, evidence of reproductive toxicity

Fragrances, colors and preservatives – I hate to think

To prevent skin cancer, we need to slap on potentially carcinogenic compounds  and chemicals that interfere with our immune and reproductive systems and that also pose a risk to the wider environment?

Millions of gallons of sunscreen is consumed each year.  After application, it
doesn’t mysteriously vanish – it winds up either soaking into our bodies and
accumulating there or is excreted (into the environment) or washed off; again –
into the environment.

I’m now a little cynical about the claimed benefits of sunscreen.  Sure, it  may stop us from burning; but isn’t that nature’s way of telling us “get the  heck out of the sun and don’t stay out here this long again”?  And aside from all the chemicals, does it actually stop melanomas, the most dangerous type of skin
cancer, from forming?

Nobody has proven that sunscreen helps protect against melanomas as far as I
know. In fact, some of the advice from researchers I’ve read basically states;
“we don’t know, but you should keep using sunscreen – just to be safe”. How safe
are we in applying these chemical cocktails?

One of the other problems with sunscreen is in order to be effective against
less serious forms of skin cancer, you need to use a lot of it, and far more
often than what the manufacturers recommend and regardless of what the SPF
rating is.

If you’re in shorts and a t-shirt and working up a bit of a sweat, the amount  you’d need to use over an 8 hour period is the equivalent to a 100 ml or 3.5
ounce tube.  Imagine if you worked outside each day and followed “best practice”
sunscreen application – it would cost you a fortune, not to mention having
applied many pounds of toxic chemicals to your body every year. Let’s not forget
about all that packaging too – mainly plastic tubes and pump packs that wind up
in landfill – millions of them every single year.

By using sunscreen, are we swapping the risk of one type of cancer for more
serious kinds, plus other health and environmental problems?

After many hours of reading on the subject; the cheapest, most earth friendly
and proven sunscreen solutions I could find are:

– stay out of the sun
– stay out of the sun especially between 10 and 3pm
– if you have to spend time in the sun, cover up, wear a wide-brimmed hat and uv sunglasses.

It’s basically all just common sense.

I did come across earth friendly products that contained herbs and oils to
replace some of the chemicals listed above, but I’m really not confident after
the studies I’ve read as to how effective these might be in terms of preventing
melanoma or other forms of skin cancer. There’s also the issue of micronized and nanoparticle ingredients which are still often found in otherwise greener  products. The Environmental Working Group has listed what it believes to be “good” sunscreens here; but even they say “the best sunscreen is a hat and a

Some people just aren’t meant to spend lengthy periods in the sun – and light
skinned Caucasians are a group most at risk. People with lighter features are 20
times more likely to develop melanoma than African-Americans.

Perhaps it’s just another case of us needing to work with the environment
instead of trying to beat it all the time.


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