Can Sunscreen Do More Harm Than Good?

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

After a long winter, springtime is finally upon us. And soon, instead of warnings about the flu, we'll be hearing from medical experts about the importance of using sunscreen every day to protect ourselves from skin cancer.

Daily sunscreen use and warnings to avoid the sun at all costs have been the mantra of government agencies and most medical professionals for at least a decade or more. However, during that time we’ve seen monumental jumps in depression (and the use of antidepressants) and vitamin D deficiencies, both of which sunlight helps to prevent. Studies have also shown that, while sunscreen use can prevent visible burning, it’s questionable whether it actually results in a drop in skin cancer rates—particularly melanoma, the most deadly form.

And, then there’s the concern of various sunscreen ingredients being absorbed by the body and causing further problems. Scientists have now found that one widely used sunscreen ingredient, benzophenone (BP), can pass through the skin and be absorbed into the bloodstream. Once inside the body, it mimics the effects of estrogen.

This latest study was performed to see if there was a link between endometriosis, which affects 1 in 10 women, and the use of sunscreens and other personal care products that contain BP. Endometriosis requires estrogen to develop. When they tested the urine of women who underwent surgery for endometriosis, they found high levels of BP—and higher levels of the chemical was associated with an increased risk. 

While this study focused on mature women and endometriosis, you have to wonder about the effects on young children. Research has shown that unborn and young children are the most susceptible to estrogen-mimicking compounds. Young children are generally the ones covered in these chemicals. Even low doses of these chemicals have been shown to alter sexual characteristics in developing fetuses, cause the early onset of puberty, and damage estrogen cycles throughout adulthood.

If you’re going to be out in the sun for long periods of time and require a sunscreen, then zinc oxide is probably the best option. Make sure it isn’t micronized zinc oxide, which is another way of saying it is zinc oxide nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are small enough to penetrate the skin and are the latest craze in skin care products.

By using nanoparticles, manufacturers hope to get more of the product into the inner layers of the skin. Unfortunately, these chemicals can then enter the bloodstream and the effects on various other tissues and organs are still largely unknown.

Now it's your turn: Are you an avid sunscreen user?

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