Is your sunscreen
making you sick?

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More than ever before, people all over the world are using sunscreen to protect themselves from sunburn and guard against skin cancer. Through knowledge provided in this information age of ours, preference is predominantly for high SPF rated sunscreens, with "broad spectrum" for both UVA and UVB radiation protection and optionally waterproof.

However, like many other things in life today, most people will view the information supplied at face value and trust all the claims being made ensuring health and wellness protection. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to be that sure.

Sunscreens are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways that the chemical industry and various governments, with all their legislation, are failing to protect public health. An extensive body of global scientific literature through the years demonstrates that almost everyone today carries vast amounts of industrial chemicals in their body. This is as a result of exposure to contaminants in air, water, and food, plus ingredients in the products we consume daily.

Do you think when you are outside and you lather those creams and lotions on that you are safe? Not necessarily so. The basis is that you don't need sunburn to suffer the effects of skin cancer. Many products tend to do a good job protecting the UVB rays. But what about the UVA rays? Those are the worst ones that can soak into your skin.

So what to look for when buying sunscreen?

People tend to focus on buying high-SPF products, assuming they've purchased maximum sun protection. High SPF ("Sun Protection Factor") products do protect you from sunburn caused by the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. However, these don't necessarily block the UVA radiation, which are the more deeply penetrating rays linked to skin aging and wrinkling, immune system suppression, and also skin cancer.

Significant studies done by various organisations have revealed a high percentage of such products provide inefficient protection from the sun and/or are potentially harmful to one's health. Ideally, these products need to be...

  • Effective, by blocking out both UVA and UVB radiation
  • Safe, by containing no ingredients with any known or suspected toxic health hazards
  • Stable, by not breaking down in structure in sunlight

Here's an insight (courtesy of Google) into regional interest in 'natural sunscreen'...


Why are UVA rays so bad? Even at low-level exposures, UVA radiation breaks down skin collagen, causing skin damage and aging. ie wrinkles! Research shows 90 percent of wrinkles are caused by the sun's UVA light and sun damage is the Number One cause of premature aging in women and men.

But the scary part is that scientists have established that UVA is linked to immune system problems and is the main culprit for many melanomas because it reaches deep into the underlying support structure of the skin.


Various researchers and reviews have revealed alarming aspects connected to the contents of sunscreens. Some have found that they can do more harm than good once they soak into the skin, where they can actually promote the harmful compounds they are meant to protect against.

For example, three commonly used ultraviolet (UV) filters, namely octylmethoxycinnamate, benzophenone 3 and octocrylene, eventually soak into the deeper layers of the skin after their application, leaving the top skin layers vulnerable to sun damage. UV rays absorbed by the skin can generate harmful compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can cause skin cancer and premature aging. The researchers found that once the filters in sunscreen soak into the lower layers of skin, the filters react with UV light to create more damaging ROS.

Some product ingredients absorb into the blood and raise safety concerns linked to toxic effects. Some release skin-damaging free radicals in sunlight. Some act like estrogen and could disrupt hormone systems. Several are strongly linked to allergic reactions. Still others may build up in the body or the environment.


An ideal sunscreen should be stable in the sun. Instead, nearly every active ingredient (all but zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) works by first absorbing the sun's energy so it doesn't penetrate our skin, and then releasing that captured energy by breaking apart, reacting with other chemicals in the sunscreen, or even kicking off free radicals. Some active ingredients are more stable than others, but nearly all break down to some extent in the sun.

Manufacturers are not required to produce stable products. The test used to establish a product's UVB rating accounts for stability in part, since it tests the product in simulated sunlight on human volunteers over the time needed to produce a sunburn. A product's UVA protection, however, is not subject to testing and rating, and the filters that contribute to UVA protection in a product may or may not be stable.


The best protection is actually achieved through a combination of nutrition and external means. A diet high in antioxidants... berries, 'superfoods' and fresh produce eaten on a regular basis, which contain natural antioxidants, are utilized by your skin to protect you from excessive ultraviolet ray exposure.

Studies have shown that both taking antioxidants and putting them on your skin can protect your epidermis and keep it smooth and healthy-looking. Researchers found that adding natural vitamin E and vitamin C to skin products may help lower your risk of skin cancer caused by ultraviolet light, and keep skin firm and looking younger.

According to a Dr. Hanson, products with a sun protection factor of 15 can block up to 94% of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light, while the rest of the light hits the skin and creates free radicals, which can distort or destroy cell membranes. Free radicals also damage DNA, and can cause age spots and compromise immunity.

While most sunscreens can't protect you against these free radicals, Dr. Hanson has found that antioxidants put on the skin reduce the free radicals that are generated. When she studied how vitamin E and vitamin C worked, she found that "vitamin C was by far the best [free radical] quencher."

Enzymes in your skin work with vitamin C to fight these free radicals.

How does sunscreen work?

The basics behind most sun protection products involve absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sun's rays in combinations of organic and inorganic active ingredients. Inorganic ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide reflect or scatter ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Organic ingredients such as octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone, absorb UV radiation, dissipating it as heat.

Applying it Properly

Sunscreens do not provide complete protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Most people use them improperly by not applying enough. They apply only 25% to 50% of the recommended amount. These products should be applied liberally enough to all sun-exposed areas, including the nose, ears, neck, hands, scalp and feet, that it forms a film when initially applied. It takes 20-30 minutes for most sunscreens to be absorbed by the skin, so it should be applied at least a half an hour before going out in the sun. It should also be the last product applied especially on the face since some can break down in the presence of water contained in water-based foundations and moisturizers.


Most written product instructions recommend reapplying "frequently", but the definition of "frequently" is vague. A common instruction is to reapply after 2-4 hours in the sun. However, one study has shown that reapplying sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes after being in the sun is more effective than waiting 2 hours. It is possible that this time period is more effective because most people do not apply enough initially, and this second application approximates the actual amount needed. Sunscreen can be washed off, rubbed off or sweat off. As a result, it requires frequent reapplication.

Ideally, it should be applied daily. The daily use of a low SPF sunscreen (15) has been shown to be more effective in preventing skin damage than the intermittent use of a higher SPF sunscreen.

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What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

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