By Kimball Chatfield L.Ac., O.M.D.
Shopping for sunscreen? If you look at the label of sunscreens available now you will see that the 10 or so most popular active sunscreen ingredients are mostly very long complex words such as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or oxybenzone. The vast majority of sunscreens used today are usually a mixture of synthetic chemicals that absorb sunlight before it penetrates into our skin. There is so much use of these sunscreen products that they are found in the bloodstream of almost all Americans, even those who do not use sunscreen. That is because these chemicals last a long time in our environment. A recent study found that 85% of women have sunscreen chemicals in their breast tissue. That is because most of these chemicals are estrogen disruptors and have an affinity for hormone receptors in the breasts. They can cause problems in multiple systems in the body as well. Some of them work well preventing ultraviolet damage to our skin, and some do not. Octocrylene, a common sunscreen ingredient has been shown to cause free radical damage to skin and cause premature aging of skin tissue. Homosalate is a major hormone disruptor, increases absorption of pesticides into our tissues, reduces testosterone, and is found in almost all of nursing mothers breast milk. The ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate mentioned above causes DNA damage and resulting gene mutations. As sunlight hits it, chemical changes occur which make this ingredient even more toxic. It and several other sunscreen ingredients mentioned in this article are contributing to the death and bleaching of coral reefs around Hawaii. That is why the Hawaiian legislature has banned their non-prescription use. Oxybenzone is one of the most popular of the synthetic chemical in sunscreen. It is an estrogen disruptor, and causes skin allergy reactions in more than 75% of people who use it. It also causes DNA damage, and is also included in the Hawaiian synthetic sunscreen ban.
So what is a person to do who wants to reduce sun exposure and skin cancer risk, yet does not want to use toxic chemicals on their skin. Titanium dioxide is a mineral compound that physically blocks sunlight from penetrating on our skin. It is a good choice as a sunscreen as it appears to have no negative effects. The best choice at this point is Zinc oxide. Yes the white stuff that doesn’t look so good while you are using it. But zinc significantly blocks both UVA an UVB sunlight as good or better than anything else that is available now. Plus it is rarely mentioned that besides blocking sunlight, zinc also is slightly absorbed into our skin and actually increases prevention and repair of skin damage from sun exposure. Zinc helps form polymerases, which are compounds that the body uses to create new healthy cells. Other safe sunscreens are being developed. One sunscreen showing such promise are the seeds of the Milk Thistle plant that have been shown to block sun damage in lab animals. So at this point the best choice is zinc oxide. Either alone or combined with titanium. Even though the scientific literature is chock full of data that show that these sunscreen chemicals are toxic, not very many doctors seem to notice. It is interesting and a little odd to note that even Consumer Reports does not seem to care that sunscreens are toxic. They just did a report on how well different sunscreens work in blocking or absorbing sunlight. They didn’t seem to care about toxicity of these compounds though. At this point I have to say WHY NOT?
Did you know that besides UVA and UVB rays from the sun there is also UVC. UVC is so weak though is cannot penetrate human epidermis, and can’t even penetrate into eye tissue. But it is strong enough to kill bacteria and viruses. Look for UVC lightbulbs in the future and especially look for it in hospitals and medical clinics as it will work well in preventing infection without the danger of UV induced skin damage.