Sunscreens have always been used to protect our body from the dangerous ultraviolet rays. But, there are speculations that sunscreens themselves pose a risk of cancer. Is it true? Find out what the studies have to say about this topic.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer
“Sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin cancer prevention, and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the Sun.”
The Sun emits UV-A and UV-B rays which are the major cause of skin cancer. The UV-B rays penetrate the outer most layer of the skin, and cause photochemical damage to your DNA, further causing mutation in your genes. The UV-A rays penetrate deeper into the dermis layer which damages the DNA. This further increases the risk of skin cancer. To avoid these rays from penetrating our body, sunscreen is one of the best options. It consists of active components of zinc oxide that act like a protective coating against UV rays. An SPF 30 sunscreen is capable of providing protection from about 96% of UV rays.
▶ Do Sunscreen Ingredients Pose the Risk of Cancer? ▶
Zinc oxide is one of the most common and basic ingredients in sunscreens. A research carried out at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, found that zinc oxide when exposed to bright light, undergoes a chemical reaction and releases unstable molecules known as free radicals. These molecules damage the DNA, and raise the risk of cancer.
Many sunscreens contain oxybenzone which is known for its ability to block UV-A and UV-B rays. This compound penetrates the skin, enters the bloodstream, and acts as a photosensitizer. This makes it photocarcinogenic, and it is also said to disrupt the hormones. Though nowadays, the use of oxybenzone in sunscreens has been reduced, it is still approved by the FDA to be used in sunscreens.
A study carried out by researchers at the Environmental Working Group (a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C.), found that retinyl palmitate, an anti-aging compound and derivative of vitamin A, behaves like a photocarcinogenic when it comes in contact with light, and hence, is said to increase the risk of cancer. A study conducted by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) concluded that, retinyl palmitate (a derivative of vitamin A) when applied to lab animals, and exposed to UV rays increased the risk of cancer by 21% than those animals that were not treated with retinyl palmitate. However, no such experiment has been carried out on human subjects. Though there are documents from the FDA and National Toxicology Program about this research, there have been disputes about the way research was conducted.
According to Steven Q. Wang, MD, FAAD, Director of Dermatologic Surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, “Based on the current available data from in vitro, animal and human studies, there is no convincing evidence to support the notion that retinyl palmitate in sunscreens causes cancer.”
▶ What the Experts Have to Say ▶
There are evidences that indicate an increased number of cancer incidences in people who have regularly used sunscreen, but it has not been proved that sunscreen was the cause of cancer. Some scientists do not support the theory that sunscreen can cause cancer. According to Dr. Warwick Morison and Dr. Steve Wang, dermatologists and members of The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Photobiology Committee “comprehensive review of all studies from 1966 to 2003 found no evidence that sunscreen increases melanoma risk.”
The study by researchers Westerdahl, Ingvar, Masback, and Olsson at the Department of Surgery, University Hospital, Lund, Sweden, showed higher rates of melanoma in individuals who wore sunscreen compared to those who didn’t. On this, the researchers concluded that those who wore sunscreen most likely spent more time in the sun, which would be the reason for such results. This theory is supported by Eleni Linos, M.D., a dermatologist at the University of California-San Francisco who said, “Often people wearing sunscreen end up spending longer in the sun. If they don’t apply sunscreen often enough, thickly enough, and to all the exposed areas, they don’t get the protection they think they’re getting.”
So, though not confirmed, try to avoid sunscreens which contain retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone. You can opt for sunscreens that contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. However, they are not completely safe, but are among the safest options. SPF 30 is enough to protect the body from almost 96% harmful UV rays, and anything above this count is just 1-2% more effective. So, the choice is yours to fall for the marketing strategy and pay double to get only 1-2% extra protection, or just enjoy the one which is sufficient. Wear protective clothing, hats, and scarves as primary barriers to UV radiation.
So, I conclude this BeautiSecrets article with a comment by Dr. Yinfa Ma, one of the researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, “More extensive study is still needed. This is just the first step. I still would advise people to wear sunscreen; sunscreen is better than no protection at all.”
Disclaimer: This BeautiSecrets article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.