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  • Writer's pictureDr. Hillary Roland, ND

Is your sunscreen doing more harm than good?

A few blistering sunburns in childhood can double your lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer. But applying sunscreen may not be protecting you at all. The products you use matter...

Safe sunscreen on skin

There are two ways that sunscreen can protect the skin from sun damage: a mineral barrier or a chemical one. Mineral sunscreens use zinc or titanium dioxide to block the sun. Chemical sunscreens use one or more chemicals including oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

Oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin and acts like estrogen in the body. It is a known endocrine disrupter and has been found in 96% of the population in a recent study by the Center for Disease Control. Oxybenzone can reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women. Parabens like methylparaben, propylparaben and isobutylparaben are linked to an increase risk of cancer and endocrine disruption.

Vitamin A, also known as retinyl palmitate or retinol, is present in over 20% of sunscreens on the market. Yet government data indicate that tumors and lesions develop sooner on skin coated with creams that contain Vitamin A.

Spray sunscreens, which have become increasingly popular, present additional risks especially when inhaled. While mineral sunscreens are safer, some of them have ingredients that also carry risk. If nanoparticles of zinc or titanium oxide are used these can enter the body and cause problems.

In addition to being toxic to humans, certain ingredients in sunscreen can damage coral reefs. The chemicals leach into the water while swimming, and can travel through the sewage system to contaminate the ocean when washed off in the shower. Spray sunscreens coat the sand and end up in the sea.

Craig Downs, the executive director for Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL), reports that oxybenzone is toxic to the symbiotic algae that live within the corals. This algae performs vital duties for the coral; damaging them stunts the growth of corals and negatively impacts oceanic health. A number of regions including the state of Hawaii are beginning to ban ingredients in sunscreen that are toxic to the coral reefs.

So what are we to do? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has your back. They have created a safe sunscreen guide that lists the sunscreens with the least amount of toxic chemicals so we can safely protect ourselves from the sun and skin cancer when we apply it.

Of the 1,400+ sunscreens tested by the EWG, only 5% met their safety standards and over 40% were listed as potentially contributing to skin cancer. The EWG listed Neutrogena as the #1 sunscreen brand to avoid, citing high concentrations of oxybenzone and other hormone disruptors and misleading claims about their SPF levels. Find out more:


Do you have questions about other products used in your daily life? Schedule an initial consultation to discuss any concerns you have. Together we'll create a plan to help you live your best life.

Need more information? Schedule a free 15 minute introductory phone consultation to learn more about how I can help.



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