Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. Americans have been scared by the prospect of skin cancer into slathering sunscreen on their bodies anytime they leave the house. Unfortunately, many of the ingredients in sunscreens are even more dangerous than overexposure to the sun itself, and some of them, even though natural, may cause cancer. According to the latest Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) sunscreen report, only 39 sunscreens are safe.
“The best sunscreen is a hat and a shirt. No chemicals to absorb through the skin, no questions about whether they work.”
From oxybenzone to Vitamin A, there are many concerning ingredients in sunscreens that have resulted in cancerous tumors in rats. Even though we use more sunscreen than ever, the effectiveness is questionable when examining statistics:
Experts generally agree that the tendency of sunscreen users to spend more recreational time in direct sunlight and to wear less protective clothing may increase the amount of sun damage that leads to melanoma (Autier 2009; Draelos 2010; Gorham 2007). Additionally, scientists still do not know which wavelengths of sunlight drive melanoma development (Donawho 1996). Thus, historical absence of broad-spectrum UV protection in sunscreen, especially UVA protection, may have contributed to melanoma development or at least to the lack of evidence for a decrease in melanoma risk (Garland 2003; Godar 2009).
Our family relies on two products that made EWG’s best sunscreen list:
- Alba Botanica Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance Free SPF 30: overall hazard score 2
- California Baby SPF 30+ Sunblock Stick: overall hazard score 1
In conclusion, the EWG summarizes “9 surprising truths” about sunscreen:
- There’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer.
- There’s some evidence that sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer for some people.
- There are more high SPF products than ever before, but no proof that they’re better.
- Too little sun might be harmful, reducing the body’s vitamin D levels.
- The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.
- Free radicals and other skin-damaging byproducts of sunscreen.
- Pick your sunscreen: nanomaterials or potential hormone disruptors.
- Europe’s better sunscreens.
- The 33rd summer in a row without final U.S. sunscreen safety regulations.