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Skin Cancer and Sunscreens

Posted Mar 07 2010 11:27am
This month’s Green Mom’s Carnival is about cancer.  My mother died of breast cancer, my 17 year old daughter died of a brain tumor, my husband survived prostate cancer and skin cancer, and two of our dogs died of cancer.  It’s not a fun subject.  We are constantly warned of everyday chemicals in our lives that are carcinogenic, so often that we have become calloused to the warnings.  There are certain cancers that we can avoid by altering our behavior, like stop smoking.  We can lessen our chance of getting skin cancer by wearing sunscreens but some of those contain chemicals that may cause cancer.

Since it is getting to the sunny side of the year, I thought I would write about sunscreens.  My husband, who has blue eyes, blond hair, and fair skin, had his first skin cancer at age 29 and has had one or two every year since then.  We grew up in Texas at a time when no one had heard of sunscreen. In fact, we rubbed ourselves with baby oil in an attempt to get tanner.  We also lived in the tropics for about five years where the sun is very direct all year long.  He has been told that all the skin cancers he experiences now are due to damage done years ago.  So needless to say, he is really into using sunscreen.

Most sun screens protect against UVB, the type of radiation that causes sunburn.  More and more also protect against UVA, which causes wrinkles and age spots, encourages skin cancer, and suppresses the immune system.  According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an effective sunscreen must protect against both UVB and UVA.  The SPF rating on sunscreen relates only to the UVB protection.  So far, there is no rating of UVA protection on products and many do not protect against UVA at all.

The Environmental Working Group has tested 1,755 sun screens.  According to their 2009 Sun Screen Investigation  some of the ingredients in sun screens are a health hazard and should be avoided.  Oxybenzone or benzophenone-3, which is absorbed through the skin, is a hormone disruptor.  It may actually contribute to cancer because of its free radical generating properties according to Skin Biology .  Free radicals can damage cells and cause cancer.

The EWG also recommends avoiding spray and powder sunscreen because they can be inhaled and end up in the lungs.  Further recommendations include avoiding fragrances which can cause allergies and reproductive problems, plus avoiding sunscreen with insect repellant.  Sunscreen needs to be reapplied during the day and insect repellant may not need to be reapplied.  You could inadvertently get too much pesticide in your body.

The EWG has also found that 40% of the sunscreens contain active ingredients that break down in the presence of the sun, sometimes within a few minutes.  The active ingredient in sunscreen works by absorbing the energy of the sun and releasing that energy in a chemical reaction to form a different chemical or free radicals.  Then the active ingredient no longer is present.

Buy sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.  The higher the SPF the less effective the additional ingredients.  It is better to use SPF 30 and reapply often.  Look for a 7% concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  These ingredients act as a block (different from a screen) which keeps sun from reaching the skin.

The EWG found that ONLY 8% of the 1,755 products they analyzed met their criteria for safety and effectiveness.  Those criteria include blocking both UVA and UVB radiation, remaining stable in sunlight, and containing few ingredients with known or suspected health hazards.  They recommend some sunscreens that can be found in familiar drugstores which are listed below
California Baby
Mustela - Sun Cream or Sun Lotion, Bebe
Mission Skincare - Face Stick
Neutrogena - Pure & Free or Sensitive Skin
Blue Lizard - Face, Baby or Sensitive
Jason Natural or Earth’s Best - Mineral Based
Solar Sense - Clear Zinc Sport Stick
CVS - Sport Sunstick
Coppertone Water BABIES - Pure & Simple

Avoiding the dangers of too much sun makes sense, but sunlight is the natural way to get your vitamin D.  When sunlight comes into contact with your skin for just 5-10 minutes you make 10,000-20,000 IU.  Vitamin D is needed for your body to absorb calcium.  According to the Mayo Clinic website , some research suggests vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.

Obviously, you don’t want to be 100% sunlight free.  Sunlight is a natural and healthy part of our environment.  You must decide how much sunscreen to use based on your skin type and tendencies and consider where you live.  Personally, I use it between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, from April to October.  Instead of applying sunscreen and waiting 15-20 minutes for it to absorb, I go into the sun as soon as I put it on figuring that I’m getting some of the benefits of sunlight before the sunscreen kicks in.

This month's  Green Mom's Carnival is hosted by Tiffany at Naturemoms .
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