by Joy Gardner
Image by Kalalani


Since the invention of sunscreen (by Coppertone in 1944) we have been told that the sun is dangerous, if not deadly. Yet in 1993 Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh, in California, estimated that between 1981 and 1992, after the invention of UV blocking sunscreen, there was a 17% increase in breast cancer. Studies have shown a higher rate of melanoma (the deadliest skin cancer) among men who regularly use sunscreen and a higher rate of basal cell carcinoma among women using sunscreen.

Drs. Cedric and Frank Garland of the University of California acknowledge that sunscreens do protect against sunburn, but they state that there is no scientific proof that they protect against melanoma (the deadliest skin cancer) or basal cell carcinoma in humans. In fact, the greatest rise in melanoma has been in countries where chemical sunscreens have been heavily promoted.

 In Queensland, Australia, for example, the medical establishment vigorously promoted the use of sunscreens, and in 1992, Queensland had the world’s highest incidence of melanoma. The Garlands believe that the increased use of chemical sunscreen was the primary cause of the increase in skin cancers.

After extensive examination of existing studies and carrying out her own large study, epidemiologist Marianne Berwick of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, found no relationship between the use of sunscreen, at any age, and the prevention of melanoma. Although sunscreens do prevent sunburn, Dr. Berwick concluded that sunburn itself is not the direct cause of cancer.

At the University of Zurich, Switzerland, Margaret Schlumpf and colleagues, of the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, found that many widely-used sunscreen chemicals mimic the effects of estrogen, and trigger developmental abnormalities in rats. Her group tested six common chemicals that are used in sunscreens, lipsticks and facial cosmetics. Five of the six tested chemicals behaved like strong estrogen in lab tests and caused cancer cells to grow more rapidly. They were benzophenone-3, homosalate, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC) and octyl-dimethyl-PABA (OD-PABA). The sixth, butyl-methoxydibenzzoylmethane (B-MDM) was inactive.

One common sunscreen chemical, 4-MBC, was mixed with olive oil and applied to rat skin. This caused a doubling of the rate of uterine growth well before puberty. "That was scary, because we used concentrations that are in the range allowed in sunscreens," said Schlumpf candidly. Three of the six chemicals caused developmental abnormalities in animals. Schlumpf's group also found high levels of estrogenic sunscreens in the breast milk of mothers. In fact, Professor Howard Maibach found that up to 35 percent of sunscreen applied to the skin can pass through the skin and enter the bloodstream.

In March 1998, Dr. John Knowland of the University of Oxford reported studies showing that certain sunscreens containing PABA and its derivatives can damage DNA, at least in the test tube experiments. “I would not use a product containing PABA, Padimate-O or other PABA derivatives,” wrote Dr. Knowland. 

Recommendations. A fact sheet from the prestigious National Institutes of Health sites an article that recommends ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two times per week to the face, arms, hands, or back without sunscreen. They point out that cloud cover halves the energy of UV rays, industrial pollution decreases it, and shade reduces it by 60%.

Epidemiologist Marianne Berwick explains that sunburn itself probably does not cause melanoma, but it is an important sign of excessive sun exposure, particularly among those who are genetically susceptible because of their skin-type. People who have many moles are six times more susceptible to melanoma than people with only a few moles. Persons most at risk for melanoma are those with red or blonde hair and lighter colored eyes. Such light-skinned people have almost six times more melanoma than persons with darker skin.

Dr. Jacob Liberman recommends spending at least one hour per day outdoors, even in the shade or a screened-in porch, by an open window or the rolled-down window of your car. Avoid or minimize exposure to direct sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dr. Liberman recommends using no sunscreen if you have medium to dark skin. If you are in bright midday sun for more than thirty minutes, or if you have fair skin, consider using a sunscreen that does not contain harmful chemicals.

The trick is to develop a tan slowly, and then maintain it. For areas of skin that have no tan, I begin with ten minutes on the first day; fifteen on the second; twenty on the third; and by then I have a tan that gives me a safe hour in the sun. I have medium dark skin that tans easily. Here’s another tip: just before you go out in the sun to get your ten minutes of direct UV rays, don’t shower or swim, and especially don’t use soap, because your skin’s natural oils create the best medium for the manufacture of Vitamin D3.

Safe sunblocks.  Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered safe sunblocks because they reflects UV over a wide spectrum and do not penetrate the skin as long as they are not combined with mircronized and siliconized products. Squalane from olive oil protects the sensitive lipids of the skin. It occurs naturally in the skin and declines as you age. Teenagers have 11% and adults over 20 have less than 5%.

Flavanoid extract from the desert cactus opuntia phaeocantha may provide broad UVA and B screening, with increasing absorbance towards shorter (more harmful) wavelengths. Scytonemin, which is the brown coloration of some cyanobacteria, is effective for screening UVA. Mycosporine-like amino acids (MMAs) found in marine organisms including mussels, starfish, sponges and lichens might provide broad UV screening. It has been shown that topical use of green tea inhibits cancerous skin tumors by 94 percent.  Other good substances include shea butter, wild tansy, and Vitamin E.

After their massive failure with sunscreen, the Australians found that the best protection is to minimize exposure to the midday sun, or to wear a hat or stay in the shade. Their incidence of skin cancer has been dropping steadily. Ten years ago they began to manufacture clothing that includes an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating which is similar to the SPF rating on sunscreen. For example, a garment with a UPF of 50 only allows 1/50th of the UV radiation falling on the surface of the garment to pass through it.

I believe that every human being needs an absolute minimum of twenty minutes per day outdoors or under a full spectrum light, without glasses or contacts or sunscreen, whether you’re in the sun or in the shade. When it isn’t possible to go outside, use a full-spectrum light. Try to install full spectrum bulbs at your workplace and in your children’s schools.

Recommended Products.

Burt's Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen with hemp seed oil (SPF 30)

This is a very pleasant sunscreen. When you read the list of ingredients, don't be scared off by the "parfum" -- it's just a proprietary blend of essential oils, and very pleasant-smelling (even for those who are usually put off by scents). The aluminum hydroxide comes from the mineral bauxite, and it's used to coat the mineral titanium dioxide (the white stuff that screens the sun) to prevent it from clumping together.

Copyright Joy Gardner 2007