We Are Sunshine

New York Times columnist examines the anti-sunscreen science

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

JULY 7, 2009 — The New York Times on Monday published an article acknowledging that sunscreen chemicals themselves are being investigated as actually increasing users’ risk of melanoma skin cancer — ironically the opposite of what proponents of chemical sunscreens have always alleged.

2009-07-08-penetrating-sunscreens-tanningnews-copy.jpgAlthough the U.S. government prohibits chemical sunscreen manufacturers from claiming that their product reduces skin cancer risk — they may only claim directly that chemical sunscreens prevent sunburn — the inference that chemical sunscreens reduce cancer risk has been made for some time.

“Is it possible that a product meant to protect against skin cancer might actually cause it?” New York Times columnist Anahad O’Connor wrote in his “Really” column this week. “Several intriguing studies have investigated claims that zinc oxide and other compounds in some sunscreens might have harmful effects. Some laboratory studies, for example, have shown that zinc oxide and titanium oxide — intended to block ultraviolet rays — can create free radicals in the presence of sunlight, leading to cell damage. Others point to research showing a general rise in melanoma cases over the years, particularly in people who use sunscreen.”

It all comes down to whether or not you believe that sunscreen chemicals, meant to remain on the skin’s dead surface without absorbing into living skin cells, do in fact absorb into the skin. The chemical sunscreen industry contends that they don’t, but several studies do suggest that once sunscreen’s active ingredients do absorb into the skin that they can create a high amount of free radicals, which may be linked to skin cancer development.

Ironically melanin — produced by your skin when it tans — is a free-radical scavenger, ridding the skin naturally of free radicals.

O’Connor concludes that “studies suggest zinc oxide and other compounds in sunscreen do not damage cells or increase melanoma risk” but did not examine the research showing that some sunscreen chemicals, such as oxybenzone, actually are showing up in people’s bloodstream. One Centers for Disease Control study showed that 97 percent of people have traces of oxybenzone in their urine.

Smart Tan advocates the usage of chemical sunscreens only in situations where sunburn is a possibility and believes that over-use of the product is an unwarranted usage of unnatural chemicals and may potentially be dangerous.

To read O’Connor’s article click here.