At CVC we have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of summer. As June starts the weather is getting perfect for hiking out in the state park and getting outside by the pool. With increased time in the sun comes increased use of sunscreen, but how does sunscreen usage effect our health? For this blog post we are going to dive into some topics that many people may not have considered when it comes to using sunscreen.
Protective Layer Against UV Light:
We’ve all had the experience of a loved one reminding us, or even forcing us to put on sun screen. This comes as a labor of love as many of us are familiar with the harmful effects of prolonged sun exposure. Maybe you’re like us and have had the painful experience of being sunburned head to toe, or maybe you understand some of the more indirect health effects like skin ageing or cancerous changes. When applied to our skin, sunscreen acts as a dividing layer to either absorb part of the radiation emitted from the sun, or scattering it to make it less direct. In America sunscreen is actually classified as an over the counter drug and is regulated by the FDA. There are two types of sunscreen. The first uses different chemicals like Oxybenzone to absorb the radiation of the sun. It applies easier with less residue, but can be irritating to sensitive skin. The other type is a physical sunscreen. This one uses ingredients like Zinc Oxide to reflect the light of the sun. In theory, applying a protective barrier to the skin brings protective advantages, but these types of sunscreen present common and unique challenges which we’ll explore below.
It May Not be as Effective as You’d Think:
The overall function of sunscreen is to protect our bodies from the harmful effects of the UV spectrum radiation from the sun. It is well known that recurrent sunburns are a risk factor for developing malignant melanoma and many sunscreen companies actively advertise reducing the risks of skin cancers. We’ve all been taught to put on sun screen in order to avoid skin cancer, but the answer really isn’t that simple. Recently, studies have also shown that there is a strong association with sunscreen usage and developing melanoma, stating that it is giving users a “false sense of security.” To go beyond that, 15 different studies from the International Agency for Research on Cancer have shown that there is insufficient evidence that sunscreen reduces rates of melanoma or basal cell carcinoma. Sunscreen has been shown to decrease redness and irritation following sun exposure, so logically it would make sense that sunscreen is removing recurring burn component, but there is more physiological evidence that the UV rays are still penetrating the skin. UVB spectrum light is necessary for the production of Vitamin-D in our bodies. It has been shown that Vitamin D levels are not significantly decreased in persons who regularly use sunscreen, begging the question, how effective is sunscreen at preventing UV spectrum rays from entering our skin?
Environmental Toxic Buildup:
The conversation of efficacy and usage of sunscreen could be entirely comprised of how sunscreen interacts with our bodies, but what happens to the surrounding environment as a result of our sunscreen usage? It is easy to not think about what happens to sunscreen after we apply it, but when examining this topic it seems responsible to explore the environmental impact of sunscreen. In particular, recently Hawaii and Key West Florida have banned the usage of sunscreens containing Oxybenzone as it has been shown to be detrimental to coral reefs. An obviously unintentional consequence, but a very important one to be aware of. Chemical sunscreens aren’t the only problems. Zinc Oxide based sunscreens have been banned in parts of Europe due to their toxicity to some aquatic animals. These seem to be better alternatives, but not ideal for large volumes accumulating in the water. So next time you put on sunscreen and go jump in the ocean consider some of the environmental factors at play with the substances you’re putting on your body.
Neurotoxic Components of Sunscreen:
Following the bans of sunscreens containing Oxybenzone researchers have been wondering what the long term health effects of these chemicals are on the human body. If Oxybenzone is so damaging to coral reefs is it even safe to be applied to our skin? A journal published in Toxicology Reports explored the toxic effects of many common ingredients of sunscreens, including chemical and physical sunscreens. And the results are particularly difficult to weigh. The main finding in particular was that physical sunscreens containing Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide only present a toxic situation when ingested, and are regularly regarded as safe. As for Oxybenzones there are mechanisms where these chemicals have been proposed to be toxic. Currently the FDA has not deemed them unsafe, but has requested for more research to be conducted on their safety.
What else can you try?
At CVC it is always our goal to inform our patients and fans about different topics in health that they might not have considered. Sunscreen in particular presents a health controversy and some difficult decisions to make. On one side you have creditable groups like the American Dermatological Association which states things like: “Say yes to sunscreen, and no to skin cancer” and highly recommends the use of regular sunscreen. And on the other you have researchers wondering if these products have not been shown to be effective at reducing skin cancer and are currently damaging the environment around us, why are turning to sunscreens for skin care? And there’s not a correct answer, the pros and cons have to be weighed. After doing the research for this blog post our strategy is to going to be to use other physical layers of protection from the sun, like hat’s, sunglasses, and long clothing when possible, but also understanding that isn’t possible in all situations. So when we do use sunscreen we are going to look carefully at the active ingredients in those products. To end this post we have included a recipe for making your own sunscreen at home, so that you know exactly what’s going into it.
½ cup of Olive Oil
¼ cup of Fractionated Coconut Oil
¼ cup of Bee’s Wax
2 tablespoons of Zinc Oxide
1 teaspoon of Vitamin E
2 tablespoons Shea Butter
Scent or Essential Oil of your choosing