People all around the world today depend on sunscreen to protect them and prevent skin cancer, as well as skin damage. Mainstream medical establishments and agencies repeatedly confirm that sunscreen use is vital during any sun exposure. But what if what you are being told is not the whole story? In fact, what if what you are being told is wrong? In this essay, we will examine the relationship between sunscreen and skin cancer, looking at all of its pros and cons.
When I was in my late teens/early 20s I used to work at a pharmacy in the dispensing area. As part of the experience, I had the opportunity to attend various workshops and seminars related to health from time to time. One particular time I was sent to a workshop about sunscreen products. I remember hearing everything that was shared and how sunscreen products must be recommended and taken seriously to protect everyone from skin cancer. I also remember thinking that something about this just did not make sense. The room was full of various white cream, chemical testers and my science-loving mind and background were in full swing thinking about the reaction between these chemicals on the skin and the sun.
Fast forward to today and we have a population deficient in vitamin D, skin cancer is on the rise, continuing to plague more people each year, and the sunscreen industry is booming. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon.
So what is going on? While I continue to still wonder about this myself, I have been actively trying to help people see the other side of the sunscreen story for several years now. After all, if we knew (at least) since the 1970s about the sun and skin cancer risk, shouldn’t all this sunscreen use start turning things around? Through continued research over the years, I have discovered some interesting theories and facts that I believe to be more true, than what we are told through the mainstream media and medical field about the need for sunscreen.
Connecting the Dots on Skin Cancer and Sunscreen Use
There are many things that we may not be sure of, at least not for some time, where the whole sunscreen and skin cancer trends are concerned. What we are sure of is that skin cancer rates are definitely on the rise. If you examine the graph below, you can see that since the 1970s skin cancer rates for some parts of our population have more than quadrupled.
Source: Centre for Epidemiology, National Board of Health and Welfare.
Prudent mainstream medical professionals will take one look at that graph and conclude that we must protect ourselves with more sunscreen any time we expose ourselves to the sun. I mean it looks obvious that the more skin cancer cases there are, the more likely we are to get it unless we protect ourselves. Right? Well not so fast. While the sunscreen industry would love us to use more and in fact they don’t make this a secret, telling us to keep re-applying frequently and wear SPF protection year-round as they put SPF ingredients into more and more everyday personal care products, there is much more to this story.
Commercial sunscreens, pretty much as we know them today, began their production and entry onto the market around the 1950s and ’60s. Even though their use continued to increase from there, it wasn’t until about the 1990s that sunscreen became very popular infiltrating every area of personal care products. At this point they were being widely marketed and available throughout North America, being touted as a “must” when we are outdoors, especially when in the direct vicinity of the sun.
So let’s consider our first idea. By the looks of those dates, one can begin to start connecting a possible correlation between the increased use of sunscreen and the increased presence of skin cancer. After all, if sunscreen is meant to protect us, with its astounding popularity, one would think the skin cancer rates would at least stabilize, if not decrease. Of course, this goes against everything the mainstream media and medical field would have us believe, so let us look at some more facts.
Our Lifestyles Play A Big Part
Around the same time, starting in the 1950s and beginning to boom around the 1970’s we began to see the wide emergence and acceptance of processed food of all kinds and forms. Microwaves, convenience stores, frozen dinners, and fast food started to become the norm. Hydrogenated fat, low fat, zero fat, high protein, and diets high in animal products began new trends of eating. By the 1980’s we were well into leading lives based on nutrient-deficient, high calorie, and unnatural food products.
We saw the decrease of wholesome, natural, and nutrient-rich foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, seeds, sprouts, beans, and real whole grains, as well as home-prepared meals. Lifestyle habits were changing, and fast, but unfortunately not for the better. By the 1990s, aside from the processed foods, diets high in animal products—especially dairy, refined carbs, sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats, we saw the emergence of genetically modified foods.
So how does this relate to the increase in skin cancer or any cancer for that matter?
It is now a well-known fact that whole, natural plant foods contain compounds called phytochemicals. While we are still in the early stages of understanding these powerful plant compounds, what we do know thus far is that they are highly beneficial for our health when it comes to healing and prevention. Animal foods do not have phytochemicals. Processed foods do not either, for the most part. Whatever nutrients they may have had are usually stripped out or destroyed during the processing of the food items, necessitating many to be fortified with synthetic nutrients to even have any value for us. We cannot build health or a healthy body if we don’t have the right tools – and the right tools are real, natural nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
What else we know at this point for sure, is that diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Even the American Cancer Society is kind enough to admit that. In fact, antioxidants—a group of phytochemicals—work to combat free radicals and repair our DNA. Free radicals are damaging molecules that can come to us from numerous sources in our environment, with UV radiation being one of them. Free radicals readily damage our DNA and this is considered one of the main precursors for cancer initiation. Phytochemicals only exist in plant foods and the primary source of antioxidants are also plant foods.
What is amazing about antioxidants as well, is that they provide a two-sided benefit for us. First, they offer preventative benefits, offering us some natural protection against burning and skin damage. Secondly, they provide healing benefits, to repair any damaged areas. Carotenoids like beta-carotene, the precursor for vitamin A, especially when combined with the antioxidant vitamin E, have been shown to decrease and protect against sunburn in individuals.
So over the past few decades, as skin cancer rates continued to rise, our diets continued to decline in quality. It has only been in the last decade that the movement for natural health and optimal nutrition is starting to register with more people. Today, many health experts are beginning to connect the dots that toxic lifestyles and poor nutrition, not sun exposure, are a major cause of sunburns and skin damage.
Chemicals in Sunscreen Cannot Be Ignored
While many of us are still under the impression that commercial personal care products are “safe” for us, the truth about their harmful properties or toxic effects is coming out on a regular basis today. And sunscreens are not exempt from this exposé.
When the sun hits our skin, two main things happen. Depending on the season and time of day, in the presence of UVB rays, the reaction which produces vitamin D begins in our bodies. Hence, we can understand why around 3/4 of the population is deficient in vitamin D, when we are constantly blocking this reaction, the select times that it is even possible. The second thing is that the sun’s rays signal melanin production in our skin—the pigment made naturally in our bodies—to protect against UV damage.
What is most amazing about melanin and something most people don’t know, is that its photochemical properties make it an excellent photoprotectant. This means it absorbs harmful UV-radiation and transforms the energy into harmless heat through a chemical reaction known as “ultrafast internal conversion”. This property enables melanin to disperse more than 99.9% of the absorbed UV radiation as heat, protecting us from UV damage.
And this brings us to our first problem with sunscreen. The active sunscreen ingredients cannot disperse the energy of the excited state as efficiently as melanin. In fact, these chemicals are potent enough to absorb and render UV rays harmless, which raises concern that they may also cause DNA damage in the skin, the very thing that sun-care products are designed to protect against. This causes a whole slew of problems as penetration of sunscreen ingredients into the lower layers of the skin takes place, increasing the amount of free radicals and harmful reactive oxygen species. On top of that just the heat reaction of many of the chemicals with the sun alone, using our skin as their petrie dish, has its own questionable concerns.
To add to this, the second main problem is that the very same active ingredients that are needed for a product to have sunscreen properties are harmful to us, even without the presence of the sun or heat. Common names like oxybenzone, PABA, benzophenone, and even avobenzone should be avoided at all costs! See the following article from PressCore.ca for a more thorough list of harmful sunscreen ingredients.
Natural sunscreens contain natural ingredients as the base, and natural minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients to block the sun. Even though these may not be perfect, they are by far the best natural options available if sunscreen use is necessary.
And if you think this is some fresh or radical news, think again. Apparently studies exist to prove that there are major problems with sunscreen and its link to skin cancer. Naturally the powers that be are slow to face this information as it threatens to bring down a major industry which is making billions of dollars off of us.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, has been a leading voice on this issue and you can read more of his findings when it comes to the sunscreen and skin cancer link here.
If the product is doing more harm than good, people have a right to know – and the FDA must take action.
Sen. Chuck Schumer
Natural health expert Mike Adams, the Health Ranger has written a lot on this topic as well, and created this video where he shares that sunlight alone does not cause skin cancer.
Similarly, aside from many natural health providers, even some allopathic doctors have spoken up about this issue publicly. The late Dr. A. Bernard Ackerman, who was a dermatologist and director of the Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology in New York, raised many concerns where the links between the sun, skin cancer and sunscreen are concerned. He has openly stated that there is no evidence to support that sunscreens protect against melanoma.
Another widely known dermatologist and author of the books The UV Advantage and The Vitamin D Solution, Dr. Michael Holick shares similar sentiments in that we should not avoid the sun for optimal health. He teaches about sensible sun exposure and its necessity for proper vitamin D production.
The population of the world has been brainwashed by the American Academy of Dermatology and the sunscreen industry, for 30 years, with the unrelenting message that you should never be exposed to direct sunlight because it is going to cause serious skin cancer and death.
Michael Holick, MD
What About Earth and Sun Changes?
Our discussion would be incomplete without mentioning that yes, the sun, Earth and our atmosphere have also been changing over the past several decades.
Some claims have surfaced that the sun has gotten stronger over the past few decades, and many people go around believing that without there being any solid proof for such claims. While the sun has its natural 11 year cycle or increased and decreased activity, the consensus seems to be that the sun has not gotten stronger or hotter over the past few decades. On the contrary it has shown a slight cooling trend since 1978 and even the EPA has stated that based on a 25-year record, the effect of changes in the sun’s intensity are estimated to be relatively small on the Earth’s atmosphere.
Where a more plausible explanation exists for the perceived increase in sun intensity, is the loss of parts of the ozone layer. The ozone layer—which protects us from much of the UV radiation—has gone through some turbulent times, thinning out in some areas over the past few decades. This allows more UV radiation to pass through. As we have learned that many of our industrial chemicals were to blame, we have begun to slowly turn things around hoping that the ozone layer will perhaps recover over the next century. However even on this issue, not all scientists are in agreement and instead point to the political and corporate ties that influence policy, which effects our health, medical and environmental sectors.
What we do know for sure is that the levels and types of UV rays emitted vary drastically based on season, time of day and geographic location. Due to this there is no one ‘clear cut’ or ‘black and white’ answer when it comes to safe or unsafe sun exposure, or sunscreen use.
Based on everything we know, and don’t know, as the pieces of the puzzle continue to come together and build a big picture perspective for us, one thing seems clear: we should NOT BUY or USE ANY of the COMMERCIAL, CHEMICAL sunscreen products—options like Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic or Banana Boat, just to name a few. There is too much for each of us to risk and lose, by being a pawn in the game of profit and propaganda.
It does not take a scientific study to provide the answers, where common sense can prevail. The sun has been the source of health for humans and other animals, as well as all living beings since the beginning of time. It is an essential part of our life that must simply be respected, not feared or abused. And when it comes to sunscreens, with a little common sense we can also deduce that putting synthetic chemicals on our skin—a living, breathing, permeable organ, and then going out to bake in the sun just doesn’t seem like a smart choice.
When you feel a sunscreen may be necessary, stick to one of the many natural, mineral-based, non-nano particle options available today. To help you find one, consult the EWG’s annual sunscreen guide.
The best way to protect from sun damage and heal any existing damage is as always, by working from the inside out. Change your diet and focus on eating whole, natural, fresh, mostly plant food, while keeping toxins and chemicals found in today’s processed food or drinks out. We know for sure today that you can boost your internal sunscreen by eating antioxidant-rich foods, so why not use Mother Nature’s first and most natural defense mechanism and intelligence. The second best option is to use sun smart habits and cover up with light, loose clothing when needed.
As the years go on and our consciousness, thinking and habits continue to change, it is my hope that we will be able to see more clearly when it comes to connecting the dots outlined above. For me, that gut feeling I had early on in my life when working at the pharmacy proved true. And so I invite you as well to connect with your inner guidance, honor and respect it, and do what feels most right to you. For me, this means never again using a commercial sunscreen or fearing the sun. Today, I choose to interact with the sun through respect, harmony and balance, while enjoying its many amazing health benefits.
Further and Related Reading
Sun Smart Series - Part 1: Get to Know the UV Index
Sun Smart Series - Part 2: Get to Know Your Skin
Sun Smart Series - Part 3: Get to Know the Sun
Sun Smart Series - Part 4: Get to Know Sunscreen
Sun Smart Series - Part 5: Maximize the Benefits, Minimize the Risks
Does Safe Sunscreen Exist? Rethinking Our Relationship With This Popular Chemical