Why I don't use sunscreen
I personally do not use sunscreens, for several reasons. Remember, your body can absorb substances from your skin. Want to test that? Crush a clove of garlic and rub it on the soles of your feet. Put some socks on and leave it there for an hour. Then ask someone to smell your breath or under your arms. Garlic! I do not trust the chemicals sunscreens contain, so choose not to put them on my skin.
I also have a saying that you should be willing to eat anything you rub onto your skin. Would you be willing to put your sunscreen in your mouth? Sure, I would not exactly eat soap and so on, but it is a good basis on which to question our unthinking use of most soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, shaving creams and other personal care products.
We need regular sunshine
Many scientists argue that the sun-avoiding health messages we constantly hear actually increase some forms of skin cancer. (9)
Our skin needs regular exposure to the sun. Of course, everything in moderation. Do not get more sunshine than will pleasantly warm your skin without the slightest burning or red skin. Red, burning, painful or itching skin is your body telling you that it has had too much sun. Excessive sunlight is dangerous. There is no question that excess sunshine damages and ages your skin.
Too little sunshine also has many harmful effects. Few people get enough sun, especially in the winter and in high latitudes.
Most people are deficient in vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D is associated with many modern degenerative diseases.
Most people who suffer from herpes know from personal experience that sun exposure (sunburn, or even mild sun-induced skin redness) can trigger herpes flare-ups. However, many don't know that the vitamin D from sunlight provides is a strong antiviral influence and protection. Avoiding the sun completely (or always using sun-screens) can increase the likelihood of having herpes flare-ups.
Ultraviolet-B radiation is the mid-wavelength light that that causes sunburn and does not penetrate the skin deeply. It is also the light that helps your skin make vitamin D. Having sufficient vitamin D (2,000 international units per day for an adult is sufficient for good health, but 5,000 IU per day is optimal) ensures that your immune system is effective. It will also give you strong bones and teeth, and a high level of energy and athletic performance.
UV-B does not penetrate glass. If you get your sunlight behind a window, while driving etc, you will not get any vitamin D. UV-B is blocked by heavy cloud cover, but some may pass through light cloud.
There are three main kinds of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, and malignant melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are common, usually less serious, and not counted in cancer statistics. Most sunscreens block the UV-B rays and help prevent sunburn and these minor cancers. They also block out your ability to make vitamin D, of which we are so chronically short.
By reducing the exposure of the skin to UVB radiation, sunscreens suppress the skin's production of the natural photoprotectant, melanin, (13) and the lack of melanin leads to an increased risk of melanoma. (2)
Cover up to avoid strong sunshine
Ultraviolet-A radiation has a longer wavelength, and penetrates through the outer skin down to the melanocytes, the cells that become cancerous in melanoma cases. Most sunscreens do not block UV-A. Zinc oxide is one of the few sunscreens that blocks UV-A, and is one of the only sunscreens that I trust (because I am also willing to eat small quantities of zinc oxide). Unfortunately it is highly visible and looks like white paint, so most people refuse to use it. Some sports people who have to spend many hours outside in the sun use zinc oxide - think of professional cricketers on TV with their white-painted noses!
Nano-particles. A recent survey in Australia found that 80% of sunscreens now contain nano-particles. In Australia, sunscreens are NOT required to tell you on their label if nano-particles are an ingredient. Nano-particles are a relatively new class of chemical that are not found in nature. Titanium-based nano-particles are often used in sunscreens. There is little health-related research available on the effects of nano-compounds, because they have not been around for many years, especially not in personal products for use on the skin or other parts of the body. Unfortunately the only funding available for such research is from the sunscreen industry, or other industries that want to promote the use of nano-particles. They will only fund research for which a favourable outcome is known in advance.
Generally, nano-particles are a cancer-causing agent, and are easily absorbed through the skin and most other membranes in the body.
UV-A passes through glass, cloud and polluted air. Do not sunbathe behind a glass window - the damaging UVA radiation gets through, the beneficial UV-B radiation is blocked.
Melanomas are deadly, and used to be rare. In the developed world, their incidence increased dramatically in the 40 years up to 1990, though they have leveled out since then. Malignant melanoma has been found more frequently in sunscreen users compared to non-users in some studies. (1) People spend more time in the sun without being burned when they use sunscreens. Unfortunately, the ultraviolet-A radiation is still penetrating their skin in a large dose, and their natural early warning system (sunburn) has been blocked by the sunscreen (2,8,10,11,12). Other studies found fair skinned people used more sunscreen and had more skin cancer, but did not address cause and effect. (2,3,4,5,6,7)
The most effective way to prevent sunburn (and the risk of a melanoma) is to cover your skin and stay in the shade during the brightest part of a summer, close-to-equator day. Our early ancestors stayed in the shade during the mid-day in the days before sunscreens, and it obviously worked because melanomas was so rare in previous centuries. The leveling out in the rate of skin cancers in the last 15-20 years is because people (particularly those with fair skins living close to the equator) are getting that message.
In summary, most sunscreens:
- Contain complex, toxic and dangerous chemicals.
- Block out the beneficial UV-B radiation, preventing your body from making its own vitamin D.
- Stop you getting red and burned, hiding the signal your body gives you to tell you when you've had too much sun.
- Let the dangerous UV-A radiation penetrate your skin, without blocking it.
- Suppress the skin's production of the natural photoprotectant melanin by reducing the exposure of the skin to beneficial UV-B radiation.
1. Westerdahl J., Ingvar C., Masback A., Olsson H.
Sunscreen use and malignant melanoma".
Int. J. Cancer (July 2000) 87 (1): 145-50.
2. Autier P., Dore J. F., Schifflers E., et al. Melanoma and use of sunscreens: An EORTC case control study in Germany, Belgium and France. Int. J. Cancer (1995) 61 (6): 749-755.
3. Weinstock, M. A. Do sunscreens increase or decrease melanoma risk: An epidemiologic evaluation (1999). Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings 4: 97-100.
4. Vainio H., Bianchini F. Cancer-preventive effects of sunscreens are uncertain (2000). Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health 26: 529-31.
5. Wolf P., Quehenberger F., Mullegger R., Stranz B., Kerl H. Phenotypic markers, sunlight-related factors and sunscreen use in patients with cutaneous melanoma: an Austrian case-control study (1998) Melanoma Res. 8 (4): 370-378.
6. Graham S., Marshall J., Haughey B., et al. An inquiry into the epidemiology of melanoma (October 1985) Am. J. Epidemiol. 122 (4): 606-19.
7. Beitner H., Norell S.E., Ringborg U., Wennersten G., Mattson B. Malignant melanoma: aetiological importance of individual pigmentation and sun exposure (1990) Br J Dermatol. 122 (1): 43-51.
8. Garland C., Garland F., Gorham E. Could sunscreens increase melanoma risk? (1992) Am J Public Health 82 (4): 614-5.
9. Ainsleigh H.G. Beneficial effects of sun exposure on cancer mortality (1993). Prev Med. 22 (1): 132-40.
10. Autier P., Boniol M., Dore J.F. Sunscreen use and increased duration of intentional sun exposure: still a burning issue (July 2007). Int. J. Cancer 121 (1): 1-5.
11. Gorham E.D., Mohr S.B., Garland C.F., Chaplin G., Garland F.C. Do sunscreens increase risk of melanoma in populations residing at higher latitudes? (December 2007) Ann Epidemiol 17 (12): 956-63.
12. Diffey B.L. Sunscreens and melanoma: the future looks bright (August 2005) Br. J. Dermatol. 153 (2): 378-81.
13. Meredith Paul, Riesz Jennifer. Radiative Relaxation Quantum Yields for Synthetic Eumelanin (2004) Photochemistry and photobiology 79 (2): 211-6.