Sunscreen: Use with Caution


The sun is a real scorcher this time of year, and we all need to be mindful of the harmful affects of the sun’s damaging rays.  In the United States, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with more than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people diagnosed annually.  Interestingly, some studies have discovered an increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, among those who use more sunscreen; although sunscreen does appear to lower the risk of slower-growing squamous cell carcinoma.  
Before you slather (or spray) on the sunscreen, consider that some of the ingredients in topical sunscreens can actually be bad for your health.  Some UV filters commonly found in sunscreen have an estrogenic effect on the body, which means that the biological effect is similar to the hormone estrogen. These same ingredients can also be harmful to wildlife, when used in lakes, oceans, and other natural bodies of water.  Although many sunscreens are labeled “water-proof,” some of them wash off swimmers and into the oceans where they can damage sea life.
Other ingredients in sunscreen, unrelated to blocking UV rays, can also be dangerous.  Some ingredients have allergic, carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting side effects. When applied often, sunscreen stays in your skin for days.  A study conducted in Europe found that, after sunscreen was applied three times a day for five days, skin had absorbed the chemicals and was itself resistant to UV light. The health effect of this has not been determined.   
When possible, use sunscreens with the fewest hazardous chemicals (chemicals to watch out for include retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, nanoparticles, and fragrance). Be aware that in the past the FDA had no regulations for sunscreens, which means that manufacturers were under no legal obligation to disclose ingredients or prove any claims made on product labels; however, new federal regulations for sunscreen products will likely prohibit manufacturers from putting claims such as "waterproof" and "sweatproof" on their labels.
The best bet is to avoid being outside in the sun during the hottest hours of the day, and to wear light, cotton clothing and a large brimmed hat to protect your skin.  
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Are you getting plenty of Vitamin D?  Check your level of vitamin D with a home testing kit.
Jennifer Cebulak
Research Editor
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The Canary Club is an educational advisory group with a team of medical advisors headed by Richard Shames, M.D.