Thought you might find this interesting!
Are Sunscreens Necessary and Safe?
By Jane Sheppard
Fun in the sun, whether it's at the beach or in your own
backyard, can be risky without the protection of sunscreen or
clothing. Children need to be protected against the harmful
rays of the sun to prevent not only sunburn, but also skin and
eye damage and the development of skin cancer later in life.
The sun is constantly giving off radiation through ultraviolet
rays. Both ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and ultraviolet A (UVA)
rays can cause skin cancer. UVB rays are more likely to cause
sunburn than the UVA rays. Children that easily tan also need
protection because the UVA rays that penetrate deeply into the
skin causing it to tan can also cause skin cancer.
Most of the sun exposure that contributes to adult cancer risk
occurs before the age of 18. Kids are more at risk for skin
cancer if they have moles on their skin (or if their parents
have a lot of moles), very fair skin and hair, or a family
history of skin cancer.
Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has become
alarmingly common, diagnosed in 1 out of every 128 Americans.
This skin cancer killed nearly 6,000 people last year - a 93
percent increase in the number of cases since 1980. While
doctors once rarely saw melanoma patients under age 40, today
people in their 20s are commonly treated for the disease.
Why is sun exposure such a problem now, as apposed to 50 years
ago? The main reason is thought to be that the ozone layer of
our atmosphere, which was a natural filter for radiation, is
disappearing in huge chunks, exposing us to more of the sun's
Sunscreens work by absorbing, reflecting or scattering
ultraviolet light, thereby reducing the amount that reaches the
skin. The sun protection factor (SPF) of a sunscreen tells you
how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning if you
apply the sunscreen. For example, if your child would burn
after 20 minutes of sun exposure, applying a sunscreen with a
SPF of 15 gives her 15 times the protection. In this example,
the child will be protected for up to 5 hours: 20 minutes x 15
SPF = 300 minutes (5 hours). The FDA recommends that kids use a
SPF of 15 or higher to prevent both sunburn and tanning. A SPF
of 15 will block about 94 percent of UVB rays and a SPF of 30
will block about 97 percent of UVB. But keep in mind that these
SPF ratings do not necessarily mean your child will be
protected against the UVA rays that cause cancer and skin
damage. SPFs only give a rating of sunburn protection. Your
sunscreen should include ingredients that protect against both
UVA and UVB rays.
Are Sunscreens Safe?
Most sunscreens contain the chemical ingredient Benzophenone
(or its derivatives Benzophenone-3 or Oxybenzone) since it is
one of the best in protecting against both UVA and UVB rays.
However, sunscreens containing these chemicals are not a good
choice. Here is an instance in which the protection may create
more harm than good and actually cause the disease it's trying
to prevent. Benzophenone is a powerful free radical generator
activated by ultraviolet light. These free radicals could
initiate a reaction that may ultimately lead to melanoma and
other skin cancers. (1)
It is often assumed that little or none of a topically applied
sunscreen is absorbed into the bloodstream. However, I found a
study that assessed the extent of absorption of a number of
common chemical sunscreen agents into and through the human
skin following application. The results were that all sunscreen
ingredients investigated penetrated into the skin, but only
benzophenone-3 passed through the skin into the bloodstream in
significant amounts. (10% of the applied dose). (2)
Another study showed that substantial amounts of oxybenzone are
absorbed into the body and subsequently excreted in the urine.
The study notes "it would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to
large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods
of time, unless no alternative protection is available. There
may be an additional concern for young children who have less
well-developed processes of elimination, and have a larger
surface area per body weight than adults." (3)
Many sunscreen products contain triethanolamine (TEA). This
ingredient may combine with nitrite (used as a preservative or
may be present as an environmental contaminant) to cause
formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines. Nitrites are not
disclosed on cosmetic labels so there's no way of telling which
products are contaminated with nitrosamines. Particularly
disturbing is that up to 35 percent of TEA applied to the skin
can enter the bloodstream. (4,5)
Check your sunscreen for the ingredients oxybenzone,
benzophenone, or triethanolamine. Fortunately, there are
alternatives to these potentially harmful chemicals. David
Steinman, author of The Safe Shoppers Bible, recommends in his
publication, The Doctors Prescription for Healthy Living, to
use physical barrier-type sunscreens such as titanium dioxide
and zinc oxide, since they are safer and also good UVA/UVB
blockers. (5) Aubrey Organics makes several excellent sunscreen
products with titanium dioxide, including Green Tea Sunblock
for Children SPF 25. I use this product on my daughter's fair
skin since she has all the risk factors for skin cancer. Green
tea has potent phytochemicals that have been shown to be highly
protective against skin cancer, whether consumed as a tea or
applied to the skin. (6) Dr. Hauschka's Skin Care and Kiss My
Face also have products with safer ingredients.
Because of their ability to delay sunburns, sunscreens could
give you the false impression that more sun exposure is safe.
In addition to using sunscreen, it's sensible to cover up your
children as much as you can with clothes, including a wide-
brimmed hat, to shield the harmful rays. Make sure you can't
see through the fabric. When you go to the beach for the day,
bring clothes that will cover the whole body, along with
sunscreen and a pop-up tent. Try to minimize their exposure to
the sun from 10a.m. to 3 p.m. (in the northern hemisphere) when
the sun is at its strongest. Sunglasses also should be worn to
avoid sun damage to the eyes (cataract formation). And even on
cloudy, overcast days, the UV rays travel through the clouds
and reflect off sand, water and concrete.
The sunscreens that stay on a long time and are waterproof are
usually the ones that contain the harmful chemicals. I found
that Aubreys's titanium dioxide sunscreens need to be applied
to my daughter's sun sensitive skin more frequently to keep her
from burning and they are not waterproof. But I feel the
inconvenience and extra cost a small price to pay for
protecting her against the chemicals in the long-lasting
Although it's not enough to prevent sunburn, a healthy, whole
foods diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables allows the skin
to form its own defensive barriers to the sun's harmful rays.
Vitamin C complex with bioflavonoids contributes to protection.
Enough B vitamins is important, especially pantothenic acid and
PABA. Antioxidants are also needed to help prevent free
radicals from being formed by radiation, or to neutralize them.
Mild exposure to the sun can be healthy for children. But when
their skin is exposed to the sun for long periods, we need to
apply a safe, UVA/UVB blocking sunscreen if we want to protect
them from skin damage and cancer.
1 Larsen, HR "Sunscreens: do they cause skin cancer?"
International Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine,
1994; 12(12): 17-19
2 Jiang R, Roberts, M.S, Collins DM, Benson HA, "Absorption of
sunscreens across human skin: an evaluation of commercial
products for children and adults." British Journal of Clinical
Pharmacology 48 (4), 635-637
3 Hayden CG, Roberts MS, Benson HA, "Systemic absorption of
sunscreen after topical application." Lancet 1997 Sep
4 Maibach, H. "NDELA - Percutaneous Penetration." FDA Contract
223-75-2340, May 19, 1978
5 Steinman, DW, "Trouble Under the Sun: How Safe is Your
Sunscreen?" The Doctor's Prescription for Healthy Living, Vol.
4, #5: 16-17
6 Mukhtar, H. "Green tea and skin-anticarcinogenic effects."
Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 1994; 102: 5-7.