May is National Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness and Detection Month. Sunscreen usage is climbing and so are Melanoma and Skin Cancer rates, this is the sunscreen paradox. Researchers believe this may be primarily caused by two factors.
The first is the prevalence of harmful chemicals in sunscreen which is liberally applied to the skin of people of all ages. In fact, studies in the 1990’s showed a link between increased sunscreen usage and increased Melanomas. Retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A found in many sunscreens is linked to increased rates of skin tumors. Another chemical to avoid is Oxybenzone, a skin allergen and potent hormone disrupter linked to altered estrogen cycling in females and reduced male fertility. Oxybenzone is currently found in 2/3 of U.S. sunscreens and penetrates past the skin and has been detected in human breast milk, blood, and urine. Regulation of sunscreen ingredients to ensure safety is lacking in the U.S.
The second is the ‘permission slip effect', in which people think they are protected from a disease because they are using a product marketed to prevent a condition. We see a similar effect in skin cancer with sunscreen. This effect is also seen in heart disease and other common diseases for which medications are prescribed. The usage of medications is rising, but so are deaths from the diseases the medications are formulated to treat. People get a false-sense of security from products and medications, which fail to protect them in the end.
What is a person to do? The evidence points to Lifestyle Modifications to prevent and reverse diseases while reducing the need for chemicals and medications with unwanted side-effects. As with all known carcinogens, exposure should be limited. In the case of sun, it is best to minimize exposure when UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. by using shade, wearing hats and protective clothing when you plan to be in the sun for extended periods. Sunscreen should be applied to exposed skin, especially when there is a potential for reflection from the water. While sunscreen may protect you from a sunburn, this is only one of the risk factors for Skin Cancer. Prolonged sun exposure is another risk that no sunscreen can truly protect against. That is why sunscreen labels can no longer contain the claim, ‘sunblock.’