Hard questions about sunscreen

There’s a lot of people who really care about their kids and worry themselves about skin cancer. Many of us sunburn easily and remember times of pain and sleepless nights after a long day in the sun. And then there are the sun-worshippers who look fantastic and bronze in their teens and twenties, then slowly turn into the dried apple faces we carved as kids and left on the windowsill.

I was so excited to spend a week at the beach in Florida on my honeymoon. My Latino in-laws expressed concern for my lily white body –  that I would literally fry in the sun. I was scared too, so I liberally applied sunscreen.  A week later, after many hours in the sun, I was as white as the day I was born and so disappointed in my lack of a tan.

I reached a conclusion that is basic and undisputed – sunscreens can prevent sunburn and tans very successfully, but that is truly all they are guaranteed to do. Since doing some extensive reading on the subject, there are things I’ve learned that are making me rethink the use of sunscreen.

The first is that scientists have not proven that there is actually a causal link between sunburn and malignant melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer. Sunburns could actually be only markers to indicate that the person is genetically predisposed to skin cancers, regardless of how much time they spend in the sun. In Australia, sunscreen has been highly promoted during the past ten years to the fair-skinned populace, yet in that same time their skin cancer rates have climbed until they are now the highest in the world. The problem may lie in the fact that most of the active ingredients  in sun lotions contain free radical generating properties which can really cause cancer. This fact (free radicals) is undisputed by the scientific community, but the ingredients have been the best we have at blocking UVA and UVB rays, which are the ones that cause sunburn and aging.

I think the most disturbing thing I’ve read has to do with the strong estrogenic actions of oxybenzone. We live at a time of unprecedented chemical exposure. Of interest is the fact that in the past 30 years, the cancers that have increased the most are the ones of organs most sensitive to sex hormones, like breast, ovarian, testes, and prostate. The increase parallels the use of chemicals in many products which are known hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen. One person I read even suggested that gender-bending and identity issues could possibly be related to this problem.

It’s a lot to think about and consider. We all want to be healthy and happy. In my personal experience, I prefer as few chemicals as possible, so I am going to err on the side of the naked sun and only use my vitamin – C all-natural sunscreen. Hopefully I can boost my antioxidant levels by eating right to protect my skin from cancer and from looking like one of those dried apples.

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3 thoughts on “Hard questions about sunscreen

  1. I read one doctor who said we need SOME sun each day for vitamin D and to stay until you feel the heat and see a LITTLE pink. But CERTAINLY severe burning and constant frying with baby oil is shown to lead to melanoma? (There must be a study…why would dermatologists tell us that without studies?) Every time I go to the dermatologist (YEARLY since my sister had melanoma) they can show me the sun damage. No one in our family history had ever had melanoma until my sister. But she WORSHIPPED the sun (like I did) and has had many, many sunburns. (I planned my college schedule around being able to “lay out” in the spring). I think moderation is the key and then if you have to stay out longer finding a safe sunscreen (like you gave a recipe for) or like one I found on Mercola.com SO we get our vitamin D but also stay safe.

    So much to learn!!

  2. Great post and comment. This is a good article that summarizes the evidence that UV exposure is associated with melanoma incidence… now this does not prove causation… but it does give us reason to consider. http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/17/3/467.full.
    I think a few principles are helpful here…
    A. Dose and timing of sunlight is very important.. in general americans get too much too seldom. (Causing Burns) A little daily makes super important vitamin D.
    B. Genetic factors beyond skin color will be found to be huge… genetic screening is not far off to estimate risk.
    C. Sunscreen has very little evidence as a preventive… sun exposure dose is much more important.. especially in childhood and no amount of sunscreen can cancel all the effects of the sun. Not a convenient message, but a true one.
    D. Vitamin D deficiency IS AND WILL BE responsible for far more deaths than excess sun exposure. I love specialists – but they often loose the big picture in the quest to prevent an illness that falls within their realm of specialty. Please do not hear in my comments a lack of concern WRT melanoma or UV… but those issues must be balanced with heart disease other cancers and dementia.

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