Do sun­screens do more harm than good?

The National - News - Arts & Life - - STYLE - Sarah Tre­leaven

On May 1, Amanda Kelly – cre­ator of travel blog and YouTube chan­nel Amanda Round the Globe – posted a YouTube video ti­tled: “Why I Don’t Wear Sun­screen”.

In the video, which had 3,861 views, she says she does not be­lieve it is safe to wear sun­screen, be­cause it is “full of toxic chem­i­cals”.

She points out that her par­ents never wore sun­screen and there have been no stud­ies into the long-term ef­fects of us­ing it. “When you wear sun­screen, you’re putting all these chem­i­cals on your body, and you’re go­ing into the sun, bak­ing the chem­i­cals into the skin and there have ac­tu­ally been stud­ies show­ing that sun­screen is not good for you,” she says.

The back­lash was swift and firm, with com­menters brand­ing Kelly ir­re­spon­si­ble for sug­gest­ing that sun­screen does more harm than good.

“Even if you don’t care about pre­ma­ture age­ing, can­cer is not some­thing to brush off,” noted one dis­grun­tled fan.

Yet Kelly is not alone in her con­cerns about chem­i­cals and tox­ins in tra­di­tional sun­screens. She was in­spired by Ellen Fisher, a ve­gan blog­ger who has also gone by the name “Mango Is­land Momma”. She lives in Hawaii and made a YouTube video about how she shuns sun­screen for her­self and her two chil­dren.

Well­ness Mama, an­other pop­u­lar health blog­ger, re­cently up­dated a post called “Why (Most) Sun­screen is Harm­ful”.

“Chem­i­cal sun­screens use one or more chem­i­cals, in­clud­ing oxy­ben­zone, avoben­zone, oc­ti­salate, oc­tocry­lene, ho­mos­alate and octi­nox­ate,” she wrote. “If you’ve been around my blog be­fore, you’ve prob­a­bly seen my stance that if you can’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your skin, but these sun­screen chem­i­cals raise some spe­cial con­cerns be­cause many are able to cross into skin and other tis­sue.”

While the risks of sun over­ex­po­sure are well-doc­u­mented and well-known – burns, skin can­cer and skin age­ing, among others – the grow­ing back­lash against sun­screen can largely be lumped into two cat­e­gories: con­cerns about the “tox­ins” or chem­i­cals in sun­screen, and con­cerns about get­ting ad­e­quate vi­ta­min D.

Gwyneth Pal­trow’s con­tro­ver­sial web­site re­cently posted an ar­ti­cle on the lat­ter topic – The Im­por­tance of Vi­ta­min D – in which Frank Lip­man, the founder of Eleven Eleven Well­ness Cen­ter in New York City and au­thor or sev­eral best­selling health books, pre­scribes sev­eral 15- to 30-minute ses­sions a week of un­pro­tected sun ex­po­sure.

“We’ve de­monised the sun and been brain­washed into be­liev­ing that even small amounts will harm us,” writes Lip­man. “We are told to slather on sun­screen when­ever we are in the sun, which blocks vi­ta­min D pro­duc­tion and ex­ac­er­bates the vi­ta­min D de­fi­ciency in­duced by our mod­ern, in­door lives.”

Along­side her YouTube video about her per­sonal sun habits, Kelly sug­gested that view­ers visit the web­site of Josh Axe (www. for more in­for­ma­tion.

Axe, a cer­ti­fied doc­tor of nat­u­ral medicine, and doc­tor of chi­ro­prac­tic and clin­i­cal nu­tri­tion­ist in Nashville, be­lieves peo­ple should be wary of sun­screen. He cites the En­vi­ron­men­tal Work­ing Group’s 2014 Guide to Safe Sun­screens, which re­ported that more than 75 per cent of over 2,000 sun­screens tested con­tained chem­i­cals linked to an in­creased risk of can­cer and other se­ri­ous health con­di­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, he rec­om­mends avoid­ing oxy­ben­zone and retinyl palmi­tate.

“Peo­ple tend to feel that they’re be­ing health­ier by ap­ply­ing sun­screen, espe­cially re­gard­ing skin-can­cer con­cerns,” says Axe. “But stud­ies have ac­tu­ally shown that there is a di­rectly pro­por­tional re­la­tion­ship be­tween high sun­screen use and skin-can­cer risk.”

There are other con­cerns, too, in par­tic­u­lar that the chem­i­cals used in sun­screen can serve as en­docrine dis­rup­tors and af­fect fer­til­ity.

Last year, for ex­am­ple, a study by the Uni­ver­sity of Copen­hagen tested 29 of 31 UV fil­ters ap­proved for use in the Euro­pean Union and the United States, and found that half caused healthy sperm to stop func­tion­ing.

But many med­i­cal doc­tors are not con­vinced that the risks out­weigh the ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing Amy Wech­sler, who has a prac­tice in New York City and is board-cer­ti­fied in der­ma­tol­ogy and psy­chi­a­try.

She says that the claims about sun­screen tox­ins and sun­light-de­rived vi­ta­min D are not sup­ported by sci­ence.

“I think it’s overblown,” she says. “These mol­e­cules are not pen­e­trat­ing the skin and mak­ing it into the blood­stream. There are gi­ant phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies that been try­ing to de­velop patch­based vac­cines for years, and it’s re­ally hard be­cause the skin is an ex­cel­lent bar­rier.”

While vi­ta­min D de­fi­cien­cies are a le­git­i­mate con­cern, Wech­sler rec­om­mends sup­ple­ments over in­creased sun ex­po­sure.

There is also an in­creas­ing va­ri­ety of non-toxic sun­screen op­tions that in­cor­po­rate min­er­als in­stead of chem­i­cals.

And while con­cerns about phys­i­cal well­ness and the tox­ins in our en­vi­ron­ment are un­der­stand­able, Wech­sler rec­om­mends get­ting in­for­ma­tion from re­li­able sources.

“There’s a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion out there as if it’s fact,” she says. “Just be­cause it’s on the in­ter­net doesn’t mean that it’s based on data.

“You might not want to eat some of these mol­e­cules, or even in­hale them, but rub­bing them on your skin is not go­ing to give you can­cer.”

Getty Images

There are grow­ing fears that the chem­i­cals in sun­screens pose a health risk.

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