It is one of the most pervasively destructive health myths circulating today — if you don’t use sunscreen, your skin will burn and you will get skin cancer! Besides the fallacious nature of this popular claim, the fact of the matter is that many sunscreen products on the market today are inherently dangerous and could cause skin cancer themselves, as well as a host of other serious health problems.
In the 2014 Guide to Sunscreens, recently released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the data shows that more than 66 percent of conventional sunscreen products contain harmful chemicals that could cause hormone disruption, trigger allergies, and even provoke the formation of skin and other types of cancer when used over the long term.
Your sunscreen could be altering your hormones, feeding a steady stream of estrogen into your bloodstream
One of the most prominent toxic sunscreen ingredients identified by EWG is oxybenzone, a compound that absorbs ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. This common additive is associated with photoallergic reactions, and is very easily absorbed through the skin. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says oxybenzone now contaminates the bodies of up to 97 percent of Americans.
“…the chemical oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body,” explains EWG. “It can trigger allergic reactions. Data are preliminary, but studies have found a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and health harms.”
Many low-quality sunscreens contain oxybenzone, as well as other damaging toxins such as retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A derivative that has been shown to speed the formation of skin tumors and lesions. Though the government classifies retinyl palmitate as an “inactive ingredient,” studies show that this common additive reacts with the sun to create free radicals that damage DNA.
“…government scientists ha[ve] produced evidence that the development of skin tumors dramatically accelerated, compared to control groups, when lab animals were coated with a cream laced with vitamin A and then exposed to the equivalent of nine minutes of maximum intensity sunlight every day for a year,” says EWG.
Blocking vitamin D-producing UVB rays can increase risk of disease, cancer
Another problem with many sunscreen products is that they generally block out UVB rays, which are the ones responsible for spurring the creation of vitamin D inside the body. On the flip side, many sunscreen products, and especially those sold in the U.S., fail to block out UVA rays, which are the ones responsible for causing skin damage.
Federal guidelines in the U.S. only require that a sunscreen’s “sun protection factor,” or SPF, be measured in terms of UVB protection. UVA protection, on the other hand, is often a mystery, which means millions of Americans are slathering themselves with creams and lotions that provide absolutely no protection against sun damage while simultaneously deflecting necessary UVB rays.
“SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor,’ and refers only to protection against UVB radiation, which burns the skin,” explains EWG. “It has little to do with protection from the sun’s UVA rays, which penetrate deep into the skin, suppress the immune system, accelerate skin aging and may cause skin cancer.”
For a full rundown of the EWG’s best and worst rated sunscreen products, be sure to check out the group’s official Sunscreen Guide:
You can also learn more about why you need regular exposure to the sun without sunscreen by visiting the Vitamin D Council: