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By Dr. Mercola
With the height of the sun season upon us, health officials are telling everybody to pull out their sunscreen and slather it on.But before you do that, it might be best to check the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2012 Sunscreen Guidei to see if your sunscreen is one of the 75 percent with potentially harmful ingredients in it.Contrary to popular belief, many sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate, as well as other hazardous ingredients.While there’s disagreement on the actual level of toxicity some of the chemicals on EWG’s list have on humans, the list does provide safer alternatives, so I highly recommend using this valuable resource as a guide before you start shopping.I will also offer my own recommendations for protecting yourself against harmful sun exposure in this article, while still making sure you’re getting the exposure you need in order to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.This year, the EWG tested 800 commercially-available sunscreens, up from 600 tested just last year. Unfortunately, only 25 percent of these products effectively protect your skin without the use of potentially harmful ingredients, so it’s important to do your homework.To make it onto EWG’s safe list, sunscreens must:
- Be free of oxybenzone
- Be free of retinyl palmitate (a type of vitamin A)
- Provide a maximum of SPF 50, and
- Protect against both UVA and UVB sunrays
Are You Drenching Your Skin with These Toxic Chemicals?
Oxybenzone is one of the most troublesome ingredients found in the majority of sunscreens. According to EWG’s findings, 56 percent of sunscreens contain this harmful chemical. Its primary function is to absorb ultraviolet light. However, oxybenzone is also believed to cause hormone disruptions and the type of cell damage that can provoke cancer.As I’ve mentioned on numerous other occasions, it’s important to understand that chemicals are readily absorbed into your bloodstream and body through your skin. And sometimes this can be even more hazardous to your health than swallowing it.Still, both the American Academy of Dermatology and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regard oxybenzone as safe. It’s been approved by the FDA since 1978, and is approved for use on children over the age of six months.Retinyl palmitate, a type of vitamin A, is another high-risk ingredient found in many sunscreens. According to a recent CNN reportii:“Government-funded studies have found that this particular type of vitamin A may increase risk of skin cancer when used on sun-exposed skin. However, these reports have been in mice and evidence has been inconclusive for humans.”According to the research compiled by EWG’s chemical database, however, retinyl palmitate gets a classification of “high concern” due to its developmental and reproductive toxicityiii. Research indicates that retinyl palmitate is readily absorbed by your skin. According to a report by the National Institutes of Healthiv:“Cosmetic formulations containing retinyl palmitate are substantially more stable than those containing retinol. Furthermore, retinyl palmitate readily penetrates into the epidermis and dermis. In vitro measurements of retinyl palmitate’s percutaneous absorption indicate that 18 percent of retinyl palmitate, topically applied in acetone, penetrates human skin within 30 hrs.Percutaneous absorption of retinyl palmitate in currently marketed cosmetic products may be still greater due to the considerable efforts of cosmetics formulators to maximize the effectiveness of products containing retinyl palmitate and retinol.Studies indicate that absorbed retinyl palmitate is readily hydrolyzed to retinol by cutaneous esterases. In addition, skin contains the enzymes required for further metabolism of retinol to retinaldehyde and retinoic acid, and some studies have shown that levels of retinoic acid in the skin can increase following topical application of retinyl palmitate or retinol.”[Emphasis mine]According to EWG’s chemical database, retinoic acid—which has been shown to increase following topical application of retinyl palmitate—is also listed as moderately hazardous due to potential toxicity to organ systemsv. Despite these concerns, the FDA has continuously failed to alert consumers of the dangers of retinyl palmitate and its derivatives. This failure falls in line with the agency’s continuous protection of their big business “clients” at the expense of public safety…
Why Higher SPF isn’t Necessarily Better
The EWG also warns against purchasing sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) greater than 50. The reason for this is because while SPF works by absorbing, reflecting or scattering the sun’s rays on your skin, its protective ability is not linear and does not offer a great deal more protection at higher levels. As stated in the featured CNN article:“While SPF 85 may sound like a lot more protection than SPF 30, the higher the number doesn’t always give a high return. Studies show that sunscreen with SPF 15 can block about 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. “The protective factors plateau from there. A product with SPF 100+ blocks about 99.1 percent of the UVB rays,” [Dr. Ariel] Ostad said. “You don’t really need a high number. They end up being expensive and don’t offer more protection than SPF 50.”With regards to SPF, another important factor to remember is that SPF only protects against UVB rays, which are the rays within the ultraviolet spectrum that allows your body to produce vitamin D in your skin. But the most dangerous rays, in terms of causing skin damage and cancer are the UVA rays. This is why you always want to make sure any sunscreen you buy protects against UVA’s as well as UVB’s.
Please Remember the Trade Off and the Benefits of Vitamin D
Besides exposing your body to potentially harmful chemicals, perhaps an even greater concern is the fact that sunscreens effectively block the type of ultraviolet light needed in order for your body to produce vitamin D in response to the exposure. As just mentioned, UVB’s are the rays responsible for vitamin D production, while UVA’s are the ones responsible for the vast majority of skin damage from excessive sun exposure.Vitamin D plays a crucial role in your overall health and well-being. If you’ve spent any time on my site at all, you know that I’m a firm advocate for optimizing your vitamin D levels. For example, this superb nutrient is known to:
Protect against cancer, including melanoma Support healthy kidney function Enhance your muscle strength Promote healthy teeth Help produce optimal blood pressure levels Help keep your bones strong and healthy Help maintain a healthy immune system Support your cardiovascular healthThis list of important benefits represents a mere fraction of the many ways vitamin D helps optimize your health. And, although you can obtain vitamin D from natural food sources, experts agree on one thing: Sunlight is by far the best way to get your vitamin D. The so-called experts who advise you to avoid all sunlight and religiously apply sunscreen are actually encouraging you toincrease your risk of cancer, not lower it… The key is to find a healthy balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production and maintain your optimal health, while at the same time protecting yourself from damage that occurs from overexposure to the sun. I’ll review how to accomplish this in just a moment.
Sun Exposure Can Dramatically Help Protect You Against Cancer
Contrary to popular belief and what dermatologists have been telling you for years, several studies have already confirmed that appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent skin cancer. In fact, melanoma occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure, and can, as already mentioned, be increased by sunscreens. For example, one such study revealed thatmelanoma patients who had higher levels of sun exposure were less likely to die than other melanoma patients, and patients who already had melanoma and got a lot of sun exposure were prone to a less aggressive tumor type.Another Italian study, published in the European Journal of Cancer in June 2008vi, also supports earlier studies showing improved survival rates in melanoma patients who were exposed to sunlight more frequently in the time before their melanoma was diagnosed. Additionally, melanoma is actually more common in indoor workers than in outdoor workers, and is more common on regions of your body that are not exposed to the sun at all. Furthermore, UVB radiation has been found to delay the appearance of melanoma if you are genetically predisposed or prone to skin cancer!
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