It’s summertime and the distinct scent of sunscreen is everywhere. You probably already know that protecting your skin from the sun is an important step in reducing your risk of skin cancer. But did you know that certain types of sunscreen have been linked to skin cancer? What most people want to know is does sunscreen cause cancer?
Some sunscreens can contain toxic chemicals that actually increase damage to skin cells when exposed to the sun. This means that certain sunscreens may increase your risk of skin cancer. Also, sunscreen can block your natural ability to convert sunshine into vitamin D.
When looking for a sunscreen, make sure you avoid sunscreen that goes above 30 SPF. Anything above this has an increased risk of causing DNA damage, which potentially causes cancer cell growth.
Here are my tips for keeping your skin healthy:
- Avoid sunscreens that: contain oxybenzone, vitamin A, octyl-methoxycinnamate, octinate, insect repellent, sprays, powders, and SPF above 30. These can can be endocrine disruptors, pesticides, or create skin cell damage.
- Use sunscreens that: contain zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone or mexoryl sx, are cream-based, provide broad-spectrum coverage, are water resistant, and are SPF 30+ or below.
- Minimize your sun exposure between 10am and 4pm: this is when the sun provides the most intense and harmful rays.
- Protect yourself: use hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, UV protective clothing, and shade.
- Eat foods high in antioxidants: including nuts, seeds, red/yellow/orange vegetables and fruits, leafy greens, and berries. Dietary antioxidants help quench the free radicals caused by sun exposure.
- Include foods that decrease cancer risk: fish, green tea, and curcumin have been shown to decrease your risk of cancer..
- Monitor your UV exposure: Sun Signals or electronic UV monitors can help. This will let you know if UV exposure is at a dangerous level.
- Give yourself 10 minutes outside without sunblock or sunscreen once daily: this will allow your body to make vitamin D, which is made in the skin. If you are always wearing sunscreen, it could block vitamin D production.
Looking for natural UV protection without the chemicals? Here are some natural ingredients that have been shown to improve skin protection:
Green Tea and White Tea: applying green tea and white tea to the skin has shown a reduction in reactive oxygen species, or ROS. These ROS agents are what damages DNA and ultimately leads to cancer. Applying green or white tea also reduces inflammation, improves immune cell function in the skin, and reduces sunburn.
It can sometimes be difficult to find a product with green or white tea, so when I’m trying to treat my skin after sun exposure, I’ll put a couple of green tea bags in my bath tub and soak in it for 10 minutes.
Nicotinamide: a common additive to sunscreens, nicotinamide helps improve immune function in the skin.
Grape Seed Proanthocyanidin Extract (GSPE): Apply this topically 30 minutes prior to UV exposure. In research studies, the skin treated with GSPE had significantly fewer sun burn cells and mutant p-53 positive epidermal cells
Vitamin C: When applied topically, vitamin C can reduce DNA damage, sunburn cell formation, immunosupression, and thymine dimer mutations, which are known to be associated with skin cancer formation. When used in combination with vitamin E, there is good protection from UV-B skin insult with vitamin C being more protective than vitamin E.
However, the most protection against UV-B skin damage was seen when combining vitamin C and vitamin E with other known sunscreens. As a bonus, vitamin C can also deactivate chlorine absorption from pool water.
Coconut Oil: this oil naturally provides a 5 SPF level of protection.
UV Protective Clothing: a great non-chemical alternative to sunscreen, UV protective clothing and rash guards can help protect your skin without chemicals applied directly to the skin.
Does sunscreen cause cancer?
There’s not a simple yes or no answer. However, following these tips can help you prevent cancer or stop it from returning. Stay safe while having fun in the sun.
You can go to http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/ to compare your sunscreen, and review recommended safe brands.