Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunscreen and Cancer and Warnings, Oh My!

In the last few days, Jenna at That Wife and Leigh at Marvelous Kiddo have posted about sunscreens.  Apparently, the FDA has had information stating that sunscreen may protect you from sunburn but will not necessarily protect you from SKIN CANCER.  Which is ridiculous, and makes me angry.

I feel like sunscreen has been preached over and over again as protection against skin cancer. Am I wrong about this??

The Environmental Working Group's report posts the following information on their sunscreen website:

This year, new concerns have arisen about a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, found in 41 percent of sunscreens. The FDA is investigating whether this compound may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk when applied to skin exposed to sunlight. FDA data suggest that vitamin A may be photocarcinogenic, meaning that in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer. The evidence against vitamin A is far from conclusive, but as long as it is suspect, EWG recommends that consumers choose vitamin A-free sunscreens.
EWG has again flagged products with oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting compound found in about 60 percent of the 500 beach and sport sunscreens analyzed. The chemical penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream: biomonitoring surveys conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected oxybenzone in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans tested...
Some of the blame falls on the FDA, which has yet to finalize regulations for sunscreens promised since 1978. FDA officials estimate that the regulations may be issued next October – but even then, they expect to give manufacturers at least a year, and possibly longer, to comply with the new rules. That means the first federally regulated sunscreens won’t go on store shelves before the summer of 2012.
According to, "A person's risk for melanoma--the most serious form of skin cancer--doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns."  Also: "Children are especially at risk: One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life."  I have only had one blistering sunburn that I know of; I was 21 and didn't think to apply sunscreen on my neck (or if I did, it wore off).  Maybe you've never had a blistering sunburn.  What about this? "A person's risk for melanoma--the most serious form of skin cancer--doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns."  Most people I know have had at least five or more sunburns throughout their life.  I usually get sunburned once a year if I'm not careful.

Marie Claire recently ran an article on skin cancer and how to take care of your skin in the summer.  In this article, Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Jody A. Levine mentions that "tanning lamps emit four times more damaging UVA rays than the sun," and that your risk of melanoma (the most deadly skin cancer) increases 75 percent if you tan indoors before age 35.  I have used a tanning bed several times before I wised up to the fact that it's just not worth the risk.  I tanned in high school before homecoming/prom, I tanned in college to get through the winter blahs (my folks do this as well, since it helps with their seasonal depression - winter in Chicago sucks), and I tanned before my last cruise in 2008.  I knew better, but I still tanned twice in a month.  My folks tan much more than I am comfortable with; I've talked to them about it, and I hope they realize that my nagging is out of concern, not haughtiness.  (I know you read my blog Dad - I love you!!  Take care of your skin!!  Grandma Nelson's skin cancer recovery did NOT look fun!)

The sunscreen/moisturizer that I currently use is listed on the Environmental Working Group's website as one to avoid.  I use Jergens Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizer, SPF 20, for Light Skin Tones.

I'm bummed it is listed as a sunscreen to avoid, because I like the way it makes my skin feel; it moisturizes, and it has a gradual sunless tan aspect that I love.  I use it every morning, thinking that I'm protecting my skin and getting a bit of color along the way.  Of course now I'm considering changing...  Here's what the EWG website says about it:

The overall score is a 7 (0-2 is recommended, 3-6 is cautioned, 7-10 is avoid).  It provides Moderate UVB protection, but Poor UVA protection, and Poor UVA/UVB balance.  It has a HIGH Health Concern.  Under "Other Concerns" they listed that it contains oxybenzone.

Here are the ingredients in my sunscreen that are "cautioned" or ingredients that I should "avoid."

It may be hard to read (I just mashed together the bad ingredients in Microsoft Paint) but you get the idea.  Check out the Oxybenzone - developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, biochemical or cellular level changes...  Not okay.  The Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate lists developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, organ system toxicity, and heavy metal warnings.

What amazes me about some of these findings is that these chemicals are found in so-called "baby" sunscreens!  If Oxybenzone affects adult development, including the reproductive system, that does it do for babies and young children??

This isn't to say that sunscreen shouldn't be used - it's just important to find a sunscreen that's good for you.  Go here to find out which sunscreens the EWG recommends.  Go here to find out how your sunscreen rates; hopefully it got better ratings than mine!  Go here to find 9 Surprising Truths About Sunscreen (this pretty much sums up the above, plus points out a few good reasons to question your current sun blocking methods).

1 comment:

  1. HUH. Interesting. I hadn't heard this! Thanks for sharing. The only sunscreen I use at this point anyway is Burt's Bees-- it makes you look like Casper because without the creepy chemicals, sunscreen doesn't rub in...

    Needless to say I don't follow through that often. I'm usually sunscreen-less. This used to make me feel guilty, but after the last year of health problems I'm over it. I feel like I ate all the right food, exercised like a crazy person, avoided toxic beauty products, etc... and yet my medical bills just keep coming. Feeling the sun on my face sans greasy layer, and getting a natural glow from the sheer number of hours spent outdoors just seems worth it now-- a simple, "now"-oriented quality of life aspect. And I don't have to feel bad as layers of sunscreen leak into the water during a swim. I've read in the past about the damage sunscreen can do in marine ecosystems as its traces are left in the water...

    I'm becoming more and more interested in the discussion of what actually adds to our health. I KNOW I feel better when I'm on an only Farmer's Market diet. I KNOW eating non-organic meat or milk, after a long "clean" stretch, will throw off my emotional balance. But being in the sun and becoming tan makes me feel healthy in the same way!...and yet that's supposed to be a bad thing to do. Maybe I've just lost my sense of the long-term...

    Have you ever used aspen dust? Rub your hands down a trunk, and wipe the white "hug" on your cheeks. Again, a Casper-like effect, but in the backcountry you don't have to carry anything. I don't know that it does anything chemically, but the white on your cheeks can help reflect the sun off. It's a Native American trick I learned at Trails.