Sunscreen: Friend or Foe

Sunscreen: Friend or Foe

Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen has reportedly infuriated cancer experts by describing sunscreen as “poison.” This came as no surprise to me, as many reports in medical literature have shown that sunscreen has never been proven to prevent skin cancer. Medical research studies have actually shown sunscreen may increase the risk of skin cancer.

It was over ten years ago that the FDA warned of the dangers of Vitamin A in sunscreen. Retinyl palmitate has been shown to be directly toxic to the skin and to increase the risk of skin cancer. Another common sunscreen is oxybenzone, which chemically interferes with the hormones of the body and directly enters the bloodstream. The best way to protect your skin is to avoid excessive exposure and to avoid the sun during the most radiant hours of the day, typically 10AM to 2PM. Australia has had such an epidemic of skin cancer that they have banned sporting events during these hours. I recently had the pleasure of bonefishing off Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The guide there taught us it was mandatory to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a scarf covering our entire face, as well as long-sleeved pants, shirts, and protective fishing gloves. If you must be out during the midday, I highly recommend finding shade. If you must go to the beach or sporting event, bring an umbrella.

Perhaps the question is: Is sunscreen really necessary? Many commercially available sunscreens are loaded with toxic chemicals harmful to the body. The other concern is that they block the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D is actually a hormone that provides many health benefits. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve mood, improve the immune system, improve kidney function, improve bone health, and enhance muscle strength. Twenty minutes of direct sunlight to the body generally leads to significant Vitamin D production, but you will need exposure during the brightest part of the day. The general rule of thumb is if your shadow is longer than your height, you will not have enough ultraviolet light to stimulate Vitamin D production. Twenty minutes of daily exposure is considered insufficient to increase your risk of skin cancer. In fact, the benefit of the Vitamin D probably lowers your risk of skin cancer. As soon as your skin starts to turn pink, though, it is imperative to cover up.

If you have to work in direct sunlight, the two most effective sunscreens, hands-down, are titanium and zinc oxide. These substances actually block the sun’s radiation from hitting your skin, forming a protective layer between you and the radiation. Most other sunscreens rely on a chemical reaction that occurs on your skin. The concern is that this chemical reaction may cause more harm than good.

Other ways to reduce your risk of skin cancer, or any cancer, is to consume foods high in antioxidants and to take supplements. Most important is to eat fresh, organic, unprocessed foods. Make sure you are consuming enough essential oils such as flax, olive oil, and coconut oil, as well as a wide variety of nuts and seeds and an assortment of colorful fruits and vegetables. I would ask your health care provider to recommend the best antioxidant blend for you—one tailored to your individual needs.