Cancer, Dermatology, Fitness, Health, Skin Care

Can using sunscreen be dangerous?

Sunscreen_WordPressSunscreen_Skin Cancer_WordPressWarm weather has finally arrived so I’ve decided to start power-walking in addition to my regular exercises. As an African-American woman with a mixed heritage, including Irish, Native American and Jamaican, my complexion is very light and vulnerable to sunburn. In this day and age with the dangerous amount of damage done to the atmosphere from the greenhouse-effect and global warming everyone is vulnerable to sun rays, no matter what your complexion. Though it still remains true that those of us with less natural melatonin in our skin are at a higher risk for skin cancer. It would seem that there is little to no reason for me to apply sunscreen because I plan on walking not sunbathing. Not true. A few years ago I went out for a walk wearing a spaghetti strap tank top and I ended up with a pretty severe sunburn. That day I was fine. It wasn’t until the next morning when I hopped in the shower that I realized my back and shoulders were badly burned. I set the shower nozzle to its normal setting for my comfort but when the water hit my back I felt like I had been literally set on fire. I immediately jumped out of the shower only to find my back and shoulders red and peeling. I was in terrible shape. This was the worst case of sunburn I had ever experienced. Normally if I were to sunburn it would be on my face especially on and around my nose and cheeks. It was never painful. There was usually redness and a little peeling. As an African-American I had no idea how to treat sunburn. So I called a friend to ask for some tips. And I needed them. Not only was I sensitive to showering but I also could not sleep on my back for at least a week. It also hurt to wear clothing over the affected area even if it was loose clothing. The advice I got was to use an over-the-counter pain reliever like Advil and to apply aloe to my skin. This actually worked well but as I said I was in pain and uncomfortable for about a week. Worse lesson I ever had to learn.

I would really like to start power-walking so it is really important for me to protect my skin. I have never used any type of sunscreen, although, some make-up and lotions do have SPF 15 in the ingredients. Ordinarily I would just put on some sunscreen before I go for my walk but my younger sister said that it is bad for your skin. My niece had spent the weekend and she wanted to go out and play for a while. I think there was some discussion of it being sunny and hot out that day. I can’t remember if it was my niece’s idea or mine to use my sunscreen if she wanted to go out but in any case we got distracted and I never applied it to her skin. I had an extra bottle that I was going to give to my niece to take home and that is when my sister made the comment. I had NO idea what she was talking about or where she could have heard such a thing. Since it is her daughter I had to respect her wishes. And I honestly never thought much about it until last month when warmer weather temperatures settled in. I am a full fledged Googler so of course I did a little research. Low and behold I came across several search results with titles like, “Your Sunscreen Might Be Poisoning You”, “The Ingredients in Sunscreen Destroying Your Health” and “Sunscreen Safety: Ingredients, Labels, and More”. (jaw drop!!) What on earth!? Never in all my years had I ever heard such a notion. Fellow “old schoolers” and “80’s babies” back me up. I’ll be darned if I don’t remember being very young and having the necessity of sunscreens impressed upon me everywhere, in medical journals and constant advertisements. I was always very observant, conscientious and astute from a very young age. From what I’ve been reading my memory serves me correctly.

Sunscreens have been around a lot longer than I think people know. In ancient times Egyptians used concoctions to avoid sunburn and feel attractive. To the Egyptians dark skin was not as beautiful as light skin. In the blazing sun of the desert it was hard to keep up light and luminous skin. Researchers have deciphered papyri and the writing on tomb walls that reveals the ancient ingredients the Egyptians used to keep the sun from tanning their skin and also to heal damaged skin. In fact, modern scientists have stumbled upon the same ingredients that ancient Egyptians used. Researchers discovered that the Egyptians used rice bran extracts in some of their formulas for sunscreen. Today, scientists have extracted gamma oryzanol from rice bran because of its UV-absorbing properties. The Egyptians also utilized jasmine to repair damaged skin, which has been recently proven to heal DNA at the cellular level in the skin. Ancient Egyptians used lupine extract to lighten the skin. Lupine extract is currently used as an ingredient for that same purpose. It wasn’t until the 20th century that sunscreens became mainstream again. In 1944 Benjamin Green, a Florida based pharmacist, patented a sunscreen. A company by the name of Coppertone bought that patent and sold it as “Coppertone Girl” and “Bain de Soleil” in the early 1950s. Later, in 1980, Coppertone developed the first UVA/UVB sunscreen which has been marketed under different names. Since then practically every TV channel and company with skin care products is constantly promoting its own sunscreen.

Sunbathing and skin tanning, for a period of time, grew extremely popular. Early on I think skin tanning was loosely recreational. Families would go to the beach to relax and enjoy the time outdoors near the ocean. Over time skin tanning became an obsession to many who wanted to hide their naturally pale skin and look a more attractive golden-bronze skin tone. Unfortunately, medical research has linked considerable exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or man-made sources ( tanning beds and booths, etc.) as a direct cause of skin cancer. Prior to the discovery of ultraviolet light, scientists were literally in the dark about the harmful effects of skin exposure to UV radiation. Great scientific advances in the 19th and early 20th centuries were made, which determined the nature of light and its effects on the human skin. The proper use of sunscreen has become paramount over the last few years. Using sunscreen is important to maintain healthy, glowing and guarded skin. In addition to doctors, many skin experts actually recommend applying sunscreen to avoid the damaging effects of the sun, especially after the recent increase of skin cancer. Keyword, “proper” use of effective sunscreens… Despite what you may have read about some sunscreens containing potentially dangerous ingredients, all are approved by the FDA and supported by the American Academy of Dermatology. There has been research which suggests a connection between ingredients such as retinyl palmitate and skin cancer. However, many dermatologists feel that these research results, in lab tests on mice, are troublesome and unsettling. Some manufacturers have opted to remove retinyl palmitate from their sunscreen products and only about a third of sunscreens contain the ingredient. Experts maintain that the short list of ingredients that are under attack based on lab test results in mice are not hazardous to humans. Listen to what Deborah Kotz had to say in an article published May 25, 2010 in the Health section of U.S. News: “Is Sunscreen Dangerous? 4 Sun Protection Do’s and Don’ts” [ A new report says sunscreens are dangerous and ineffective at preventing skin cancer ] —

Be afraid, very afraid of that sunscreen you lather on. So suggests a new report from the Environmental Working Group. Most have dangerous chemicals that will accelerate the growth of skin tumors or disrupt the intricate workings of your hormonal systems, the nonprofit group reports. And these “modern-day snake oil” products don’t work anyway, the group says, giving people a false sense of security so they stay out in the sun longer and get deadly skin cancer. Scary stuff. But is it true?
The American Academy of Dermatology says no, adding in a statement released yesterday that “scientific evidence supports the beneficial effects of sunscreen” and that sunscreen is “an important tool in the fight against skin cancer.” The EWG report, though, does make two legitimate points: First, we shouldn’t assume that rubbing on some sunscreen in the morning will protect our bikini-clad bodies at the beach all day. Second, most of us use far too little sunscreen to get significant protection. Here’s what Henry W. Lim, chairman of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital, recommends when it comes to using sunscreen.

1. Do trust that sunscreens work. They’re not snake oil, says Lim, and are regulated as over-the-counter drugs by the Food and Drug Administration. The current products labeled “broad spectrum,” “wide spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” do a good job at blocking out UVB rays (the kind that causes sunburns and skin cancers) and a fairly good job at blocking UVA rays (the kind that causes tanning, wrinkles and also contributes to skin cancers). There’s some controversy over UVA protection because the FDA hasn’t yet issued regulations—expected in October—for how much protection from UVA is needed to allow the use of the wide or broad spectrum label. (Older sunscreen products protected only against UVB.) Products containing titanium dioxide, ecamsule (Mexoryl SX), avobenzone, or zinc oxide generally provide this broader protection.
2. Do apply a lot, and frequently. While the FDA recommends applying one ounce or a shot-glassful of sunscreen to fully protect your body from head to toe, most of us use just a quarter of that amount and this lowers the sun protection factor by as much as a factor of 10. Studies suggest that a product with an SPF of 30 will give you an SPF of barely 3, says Lim, if you use the amount in a quarter of a shot glass. He’s also not a fan of spray-on sunscreens since people tend to apply less or miss spots. “You have to spray a few times over each area.” You also need to remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours since sweating, rubbing and swimming can cause sunscreens, even those that are labeled “water resistant,” to wear off.
3. Don’t worry so much about the chemicals. The EWG report raised concerns about retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A compound found in about 40 percent of sunscreens. The group says that chemical could accelerate skin damage and increase skin cancer risk when applied to skin that’s exposed to sunlight. These claims, says Lim, are based on a study in mice , which are far more susceptible to skin cancer than humans. “It’s dangerous to apply a finding in mice to humans, and I’ve spoken with a number of my colleagues about this and we all agree that it’s very premature to even cast doubt about the safety of this chemical.” The EWG also flagged products with oxybenzone, which it calls a “hormone-disrupting” compound. This, too, is based on mice data, says Lim; the animals were fed significantly greater amounts of the chemical than what’s commonly applied in sunscreen. Other research found no significant changes in blood hormone levels in human volunteers who were told to apply sunscreens containing oxybenzone every day for two weeks. Any hormonal effect, he adds, is probably “very low”; still, if you’re concerned about avoiding other hormonal disrupters like bisphenol-A found in hard plastic bottles, you can also avoid this one by checking for oxybenzone on the list of active ingredients. Interestingly, the EWG gave its green or favorable rating only to products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, two blockers that don’t get absorbed into the skin and are considered pretty innocuous. But Lim says that some dermatologists have expressed concerns about the use of these compounds in people who have inflammatory skin conditions like eczema. Tiny cracks in the skin of people with eczema could allow these compounds to enter the bloodstream. “Since the body can’t metabolize these compounds, they can collect in the body over time,” with unknown effects, says Lim. For this reason, he says it might be a good idea for those with skin problems to avoid those compounds or use sunscreens without them.
4. Don’t forget the hat, coverup, and sunglasses. All of these provide protection where sunscreens can’t. Sunglasses, for instance, protect you from cataracts and also protect those areas around your eyes where you can’t apply sunscreen. Clothes to cover your midriff, shoulders and back provide added protection in between those dips in the ocean or pool. And a hat will protect your scalp from sunburns. Even while promoting the use of sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology calls it just “one component of a daily photoprotection regimen.” We shouldn’t forget the others. –


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