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Why you should ignore these two anti-sunscreen claims

Skin cancer

Posted on 08/07/20

As you may know, we’re on a crusade. A crusade to help men live a healthy and successful outside life. Specifically, we’re trying to encourage men to practice vigilant and daily skin protection.

Unfortunately, I sometimes see magazine, newspaper and online headlines that are squarely anti-sunscreen. There’s a minority who claim sunscreen is harmful to the body and actually increases the risk of skin cancer. LifeJacket is rooted in science. Science is part of our DNA. And for that reason, we feel this minority view creates ambiguity and noise that’s unhelpful. 

Comments like this are unlikely to have made it onto your radar. I’m self-aware enough to realise my head’s buried in this world every single day so you might not think it’s worth a journal entry in its own right. But, if there’s doubt in even one person’s mind, I feel compelled to address it.

After all, remember the crusade. We’re trying to help men live a longer, healthier life. And as founders, we want to halt the increase in male skin cancer.

So, it may be like turkeys voting for Christmas but now you can see why these anti-sunscreen headlines don’t help our cause.

The case for why sunscreen is harmful

In recent years, there have been two strands of ‘opposing thought’.

Firstly, a study from Sweden, published in 2014, found that women who avoided sunbathing during the summer were twice as likely to die as those who sunbathed every day. Researchers concluded that mortality was linked to low Vitamin D levels. My wife is Swedish and I can confirm that conversation about Vitamin D is to Swedes what the weather is to Brits. It’s a national obsession. 

The second strand of thought is that sunscreens are toxic to the human body. Certain chemicals and particles have been singled out as causing cancer or interfering with the human body’s endocrine system and its ability to regulate hormones.

For example, oxybenzone (which FYI we don’t use), a UVB blocking chemical sunscreen filter, gets a bad rap. There’s a common misconception that it causes hormone disruption in humans. This idea was based on a study whereby huge amounts of oxybenzone were fed to rats and the rats demonstrated uterine growth. To reach an equivalent amount of oxybenzone exposure in humans, you would have to apply sunscreen over every inch of your body, every day, for 70 years.

From all the reading I’ve done, I can stress that these studies are in the minority or, as is the case with oxybenzone, pretty far-fetched.

However, they contradict conventional wisdom around sun protection and sun damage. If did make me wonder if these two arguments were valid? Should I stop wearing sunscreen? After all, new, alternative and pioneering thought will always be in the minority at the start.

My assessment

At this point, you need to know that I am not a researcher, scientist or a doctor.

I’m a consumer. Like you.

At its simplest, my judgement tells me the weight of evidence, research and science against these two ideas is overwhelming.

For now, I therefore believe the status quo is correct. And here’s why…

The defense: Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system.

It’s true that sunlight helps the body to produce or ‘synthesise’ vitamin D in the skin.

However, a review of 1,000 studies by the Institute of Medicine in Washington DC, found that the majority of Americans consume enough Vitamin D through their diet. There was no evidence that vitamin D insufficiency leads to cancer, heart disease, diabetes or other conditions.1

It’s also worth saying that once our body has produced a certain level of Vitamin D, any excess is broken down and removed by the body.

The defense: chemical toxicity in sunscreens

Let’s not kid ourselves, most things contain ‘chemicals’.

That includes supposed organic, chemical-free or natural sunscreens like coconut oil, which doesn’t even block UV rays.

And who’s to say the word ‘chemical’ equals ‘something that’s bad’?

I read somewhere that the founding principle of toxicology is that the dose is what makes the poison.

The dose in over-the-counter sunscreens is not high enough to cause human harm.

These products go through intense scrutiny before they can be released into the marketplace for consumer consumption and they have been used for years and years. I can vouch for that personally. 

In the EU, the manufacture and supply of cosmetics is governed by the EU Cosmetics Regulations (specifically, No. 1223/2009). This piece of legislation ensures that every cosmetic product and the chemical ingredients within it must comply with a number of regulations, if sold within the European market. It means every ingredient within the formulation is on the “positive” list of safe ingredients and within any dosage limits that might exist in respect of irritation or toxicity risks. You can read more about this in our journal entitles Formulating for Skin Safety.

So, let’s go back to first principles

For me, the key facts are :

  1. We know that ultraviolet rays from the sun or a sun bed cause up to 90%2 of skin cancers
  2. We know that five or more sunburns double the risk of skin cancer3
  3. From a study in Australia, we know that regular sunscreen users reduce their incidence of melanoma by 50-73%4

When you consider these three facts against the anti-sunscreen counter-facts, my feeling is that conventional wisdom prevails.

The relative risk of not using sunscreen and getting skin cancer is too great.

So, until the counter-facts are better substantiated, I maintain that sunscreen is a safe and effective means of protecting my skin from the known damage of ultraviolet rays.

And that’s my decision as a consumer and how I choose to look after my own skin.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sources and further reading:
(1) Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. Institute of Medicine, 2010
(2) Pleasance ED, Cheetham RK, Stephens PJ, et al. A comprehensive catalogue of somatic mutations from a human cancer genome. Nature 2009; 463:191-196
(3) Pfahlberg A, Kölmel KF, Gefeller O. Timing of excessive ultraviolet radiation and melanoma: epidemiology does not support the existence of a critical period of high susceptibility to solar ultraviolet radiation-induced melanoma. Br J Dermatol 2001; 144:3:471-475
(4) Green AC, Williams GM, Logan V, Strutton GM. Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: randomized trial follow-up. J Clin Oncol 2011 Jan 20; 29(3):257-63. Epub 2010 Dec 6

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