By Marc Sorenson, EdD, Sunlight Institute..
A new article in Tech Times[i] reminded me of the sometimes terrible consequences of chemical sunscreen use. We know that melanoma incidence has paralleled the increase in sun exposure (see my previous blog), meaning that at best sunscreens are a waste of time and money, and at worst they are dangerous.
The dangers of chemical sunscreens are numerous in terms of health: feminization of humans, animals and fish are just a few. However, there is also a terrific environmental impact that has to do with the harm to the environment. A study from the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology regarding the detrimental effects of Oxybenzone, one of the worst (and most used) of the sunscreen ingredients, stated that Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, meaning that its adverse effects are exacerbated in the light.[ii] Does this chemical sound like something you’d like to apply to your skin while out in the sunlight?
The researchers also stated: “Oxybenzone is an emerging contaminant of concern in the marine environment.” The researchers found that a small dollop of sunscreen in six Olympic-sized pools caused a disruption of coral growth. Such disruption leads to a whitening and killing of the marine activity of the coral reefs. This is accomplished by ossification of a free-swimming larva called a planula, which kills it and stops the growth of coral reefs.
Here are a few of the other facts about oxybenzone and other chemical sunscreens:
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2008 released a study showing that 96.8% of Americans at age six are contaminated with oxybenzone and that women were 3.5 times as likely to have high concentrations as men.[iii] The authors suggest that the greater use by women of personal-care products, most of which contain sunscreens, is the reason for their higher degree of contamination; oxybenzone is used in 588 sunscreens and in 567 other personal-care products.[iv] An incredible 9% or more of the applied amount is absorbed through the skin.[v]
Pregnant mothers exposed to oxybenzone gave birth to babies with low birth weights,[vi] which “programs” the developing child for greater risks of heart disease, hypertension, type-2 diabetes and other diseases in adulthood.[vii] Furthermore, sunlight causes the chemical to become a potent allergen[viii] [ix] and to form free radicals.[x]
Other dangers of sunscreen chemicals are their potential “gender-bending” characteristics; they increase estrogen and decrease testosterone in men[xi] [xii] and may be partly responsible for the nearly 50% reduction of sperm count in the last few decades.[xiii] Sunscreen chemicals are also known to cause the feminization of fish,[xiv] and environmental pollution by these and similarly-structured chemicals are now thought to cause feminization in alligators and the gradual extinction of Florida panthers due to failure to breed.[xv]
Enjoy the sun safely by covering up when you have had enough. Chemical sunscreens are not the answer.
[ii] C. A. Downs , Esti Kramarsky-Winter, Roee Segal, John Fauth, Sean Knutson, Omri Bronstein, Frederic R. Ciner, Rina Jeger, Yona Lichtenfeld et al. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Oct 20 2015.
[iii] Calafat AM, Wong LY, Ye X, Reidy JA, Needham LL. Concentrations of the Sunscreen Agent, Benzophenone-3, in Residents of the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003–2004. (available at http://dx.doi.org/).
[iv] Environmental Working Group: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical. March 25, 2008. (available at http://www.ewg.org/node/26212).
[v] Hayden CG, Roberts MS, Benson HA. Systemic absorption of sunscreen after topical application. Lancet 1997:350:863-64.
[vi] Wolff MS, Engel SM, Berkowitz GS, Ye X, Silva MJ, Zhu C, Wetmur J, Calafat AM. Prenatal Phenol and Phthalate Exposures and Birth Outcomes. National Institutes of Health USA Department of Health and Human Services. doi:10.1289/ehp.11007 (available at http://dx.doi.org/)
[vii] Lau C, Rogers JM. 2004. Embryonic and fetal programming of physiological disorders in adulthood. Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today 2004;72:300-12.
[viii] Bryden AM, Moseley H, Ibbotson SH, Chowdhury MM, Beck MH, Bourke J, English J, Farr P, et al. Photopatch testing of 1155 patients: results of the U.K. multicentre photopatch group. The British Journal of Dermatology 155:737-47
[ix] Rodriguez E, Valbuena MC, Rey M, Porras de Quintana L. 2006. Causal agents of photoallergic contact dermatitis diagnosed in the national institute of dermatology of Colombia. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 2006;22:189-92.
[x] Environmental Working Group: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical. March 25, 2008. (available at http://www.ewg.org/node/26212).
[xi] Environmental Working Group: Americans Carry Body Burden of Toxic Sunscreen Chemical. March 25, 2008. (available at http://www.ewg.org/node/26212).
[xii] Ma R, Cotton B, Lichtensteiger W, Schlumpf M. UV Filters with Antagonistic Action at Androgen Receptors in the MDA-kb2 Cell Transcriptional-Activation Assay. Toxicological Sciences 2003;74:43-50.
[xiii] Pickart, L. The Chemical Sunscreen Health Disaster 2000-2008. (available at http://www.skinbiology.com/toxicsunscreens.html)
[xiv] Kunz PY, Galicia HF, Fent K. Comparison of in vitro and in vivo estrogenic activity of UV filters in fish. Toxicol Sci 2006:90:349-61.
[xv] Pickart, L. The Chemical Sunscreen Health Disaster. 2000-2008. (available at http://www.skinbiology.com/toxicsunscreens.html)
[xvi] Brand RM, Pike J, Wilson RM, Charron AR. Sunscreens containing physical UV blockers can increase transdermal absorption of pesticides. Toxicol Ind Health. 2003;19:9-16.
[xvii] Pont AR, Charron AR, Brand RM. Active ingredients in sunscreens act as topical penetration enhancers for the herbicide 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004;195:348-54.