Sunscreen: Getting Under Your Skin
As you head into June, take a minute to remember the summer excursions of your childhood. What sights, sounds and smells come back to you immediately? Likely you recall lapping water, barbecue, laughter, mosquitoes, bicycles... and sunscreen. Ah, sunscreen. Is there any smell more indicative of summer than that of warm skin lathered in tropical scents like lime and coconut? No doubt, if you were young in the later decades of the 20th century, your parents made a practice of covering you in the stuff, especially if your skin is relatively pale. You might be extending the ritual to your own children today.
"Many sunscreens allow skin damage that is not immediately evident, and this is where the danger comes in."
But did you ever stop to think about what's in the sunscreen? The chemicals used to block the sun's harmful rays are not always gentle, and might be responsible for lasting effects on your overall health, not to mention your children's. Think of it this way - you cover your skin with potent chemicals to inhibit UVA and UVB rays, and then you rub the chemicals in so that they eventually enter your bloodstream. Isn't it possible that such strong substances could have adverse affects on other parts of your body? Here are just a few of the ingredients in a typical bottle of sunscreen:
- Octyl methoxycinnamate
- 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor
It is thought that many of these chemicals generate free radicals, destroy DNA, and encourage cancer cells. This might seem like a contradiction, since sunscreen is marketed as protection against skin cancer. And since most people equate sunburn with increased chance for skin cancer, the strategy works. However, many sunscreens allow skin damage that is not immediately evident, and this is where the danger comes in.
Study findings suggest that when these harsh chemicals get into our bloodstream, they might damage healthy cells and help to generate bad ones. Thus, according to some researchers, sunscreen is actually contributing to, rather than slowing, cancer development in people that use it. Additionally, many of the chemicals in sunscreen act like the female hormone estrogen. Too much estrogen or estrogen-like effects can lead to lower sperm counts, increased cancer risk, menstrual difficulties, and headaches. The dangers of estrogen-like chemicals are more serious for fetuses, babies and young children, as they are undeveloped sexually. The resulting complications may not be apparent until late in life.
One blogger recently discussed the negative effects sunscreen appeared to have had on her toddler daughter. When the little girl - who was a fair-skinned redhead - was 18 months old, her pediatrician noticed that she was developing breasts. Since the child was so light skinned, sunscreen was a big part of their lives, and seen as the main culprit in the early breast development. The little girl's parents quickly converted to more natural sunscreens that used zinc.