Although sunscreens are promoted as the best way to protect yourself against skin cancer, the FDA has admitted that it is “not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer.” In fact, many of the toxic chemicals found in sunscreens have actually been shown to increase skin cancer risk!
Adding insult to injury, it turns out that many chemical sunscreens don’t even protect your body from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. That’s because many chemical ingredients act by physically filtering out UV radiation, and therefore are effective only while sitting on the surface of the skin. But the chemical formulations of many sunscreens cause the active ingredients to be rapidly absorbed into the skin’s lower layers, where they are just as toxic but provide little or no sun protection.
Why would you poison your skin?
Even the most innocuous-seeming sunscreen ingredients may be dangerous. For example, retinyl palmitate, which contains vitamin A, is supposedly included in sunscreens as an antioxidant. Yet lab studies have shown that when exposed to sunlight, retinyl palmitate forms free radicals that have the opposite effect, damaging rather than protecting cells and DNA. Vitamin A itself has even been shown to stimulate excessive growth of skin cells.
Other common but toxic sunscreen ingredients include: avobenzone, benzophenoones (dioxybenzone, oxybenzone), cinnamates, digalloyl trioleate, homosalate, menthyl anthranilate, methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), octinoxate, octisalate, PABA esters and salicylates.
All of these chemicals have been shown to generate free radicals in the body, producing oxidative stress that can lead to cancer. Many of them are also estrogen mimics, capable of causing dangerous and systemic changes to the body. Some have also been implicated in causing other forms of hormone disruption, reproductive abnormalities, behavioral changes and allergies.
An often overlooked risk of toxic sunscreen chemicals – indeed, toxic chemicals in any skin lotion – is the way that they devastate the natural and protective microbiome of the skin. Human skin naturally hosts a diverse community of microbes that help maintain our health; slathering the skin with poison dramatically shifts the balance and places skin health at risk.
Nourish your skin instead
Ironically, one of the best ways to protect your skin from cancer may be to ditch the sunscreen and get more natural sunlight on your skin. That’s because exposure to UV radiation from sunlight causes your body to produce vitamin D, a hormone precursor that plays a critical role in cancer prevention. Vitamin D also helps prevent autoimmune diseases, infection and inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
Studies have shown that people who use more sunscreen actually have higher rates of melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. Additionally, melanoma patients with higher rates of sun exposure are actually more likely to survive the disease, not less, and are less likely to develop aggressive forms of the disease. Vitamin D may partially explain these surprising findings.
To get enough vitamin D, light-skinned people should get 15–20 minutes of sun exposure over about 60 percent of the body each day (this way your body stores up vitamin D in the summer to use in the winter). People with very dark skin may need as much as 45 minutes of daily exposure.
But what if you have skin that is highly prone to burning? You can protect yourself with protective hats and clothing, as recommended by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. You can also apply non-nanotech zinc oxide to your skin as a physical barrier. Tropical oils such as shea butter, coconut, eucalyptus, or aloe vera can be applied directly to the skin both before and after sun exposure to nourish it and boost its natural resistance to burning. These oils also help encourage a healthy skin microbiome.
Don’t overlook the importance of a diet rich in antioxidants, which is one of the best ways to prevent all types of cancer. Foods especially high in skin-protecting antioxidants include carrots, fresh juices, spirulina and other algae, and any foods high in vitamin C.