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Chemical sunscreen for skin protection? No!

Chemical sunscreen is toxic and hazardous. By Marc Sorenson, EdD

Chemical sunscreen has been mentioned in new medical and scientific papers lately, and the research is alarming. Yet, many governments and medical associations have not gotten the message. Consequently, I lately blogged about the idea being promoted in Australia and New Zealand, that sunscreen use is absolutely indispensable. Due to this promotion, a major Australian newspaper stated, “Make it like brushing your teeth.” That seems like a terrific slogan to line the pockets of chemical sunscreen manufacturers, no? But, it is most noteworthy that sunscreen use may lead to disability and even death.

A dermatology journal study takes chemical sunscreens to task.

But maybe the dermatology profession is starting to catch on. And Surprisingly, one of the best treatises on chemical sunscreen was written by dermatologists. It is rather interesting that they were strongly questioning the wisdom of chemical sunscreens. Furthermore, the study was published by the Clinical Dermatology Research Journal and was entitled, Should We Use Products Containing Chemical UV Absorbing Sunscreen Actives on Children?[1] This is amazing, because most dermatologists are loath to say anything about sunscreen that is not positive.

The salient points on chemical sunscreens from this research paper:

  • A 2018 report from the American Cancer Society demonstrated the following: after 40 years of sunscreen use (1975-2014) melanoma increased 4 fold in men and 3 fold in women. (So how does that information lead to the usual mantra that we should always be covered in sunscreen?)
  • Also, all six sunscreen chemicals (chemical UV absorbers) considered in this paper are known to be endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). And oxybenzone, one of the worst offenders, has been shown to cause a significant decrease in sperm density. (Since sperm counts have dropped rapidly in the past few decades among men, could it be due to chemical sunscreen use?)

More facts about chemical sunscreens:

  • Also, environmental exposure to chemical sunscreen in adolescent boys (ages 12-19) was associated with significantly lower total serum testosterone. Therefore, these chemicals would, as mentioned, produce lower sperm density.
  • In addition, chemical sunscreen passes through human skin. (About 8% of Oxybenzone finds its way through the skin. It seems like using these noxious products is something most of us would want to avoid!)

Other research on chemical sunscreens that may interest you:

Another important study demonstrates that chemical sunscreen does not help prevent melanoma, and, it could be a cause. [2] Rather surprising, no? Most of all, the researchers’ goal was to determine the efficacy of sunscreens in preventing melanoma. Hence, they compared melanoma rates with sales in 24 countries in Europe, during the period of 1997-1999 to 2008 and 2012. They thus found that higher income people had significantly higher melanoma incidence. And, increased use of chemical sunscreens had not prevented higher income populations from being at higher risk of melanoma. Consequently, we see this equation: Higher sunscreen use=higher melanoma risk and therefore higher melanoma death risk!

But does chemical sunscreen prevent skin cancer?

So, the following research probably deflated the egos of chemical sunscreen manufacturers. A meta-analysis of 20 studies showed what many probably not expect. Because, both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers were not prevented by chemical sunscreens.[3] It is especially relevant that they were associated with a slight increase in risk, though this increase was not considered significant. We could probably say, from the information presented, that sunscreens are worthless at best, and dangerous at worst. So, who benefits?  The manufacturers and distributors. And who suffers? The people, because they use the noxious products.

Does chemical sunscreen even prevent sunburns?

And now, another recent scientific study corroborates this conclusion (worthless at best, dangerous at worst) regarding chemical sunscreen.[4]  The authors expected a different outcome—an outcome exactly opposite of what they found. The goal was to discover which sun-protection behavior was most effective in preventing sunburn. Hence, they designed a cross-sectional investigation using a nationally representative sample of about 32,000 US adults.

Excellent research method on chemical sunscreens

The researchers interviewed each participant, and they did it in person. This is especially relevant when attempting to achieve the most accurate results possible. We can conclude, therefore, that their findings regarding sunscreen use and other “sun-protective” behaviors have validity. The measured behaviors (beyond sunscreen use) were seeking shade, wearing a hat or visor, and wearing long sleeves and/or pants.

Results of the sunburn and chemical sunscreen study.

In addition, the researchers identified the subjects as sun-sensitive individuals or non-sun-sensitive individuals. Fifty-four percent of the subjects were women, and 15,992 of all individuals were considered sun-sensitive (fair skinned).  Those who used only sunscreen had the highest sunburn likelihood (62.4%). The group with lowest likelihood of sunburn did not use chemical sunscreen but engaged in the other protective behaviors (24.3% sunburned). 

A surprising conclusion that using chemical sunscreens was the worst choice!

In addition, among 12,566 non–sun-sensitive individuals, those engaged in all 4 protective behaviors had the lowest sunburn risk (6.6%). The highest likelihood of sunburn was among those who only used sunscreen (26.2%). Dr. Kasey Morris, the study leader, was stunned. She made the following statement: “The most surprising and counterintuitive finding was that regular sunscreen use, in the absence of other protective behaviors, was associated with the highest likelihood of sunburn.”[5]

The bottom line regarding chemical sunscreen and sunburns

So, you should now understand this fact: chemical sunscreen use associates closely with sunburning. [3] That fact has actually been known since 2014.[6] Therefore, sunscreen is not a good product. Of course, we should protect ourselves from overexposure to sunlight. But, we should do it the way God (or Mother Nature, if you prefer) intended it:  1. Cover up with clothing when you start to redden, 2. Seek shade. 3. Go indoors for awhile. And remember that good health depends on obtaining regular, non-burning sun exposure. Happy sunning!

Read more on sunscreens and toxicity in my new book, Embrace the Sun, available at Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Embrace-Sun-Marc-B-Sorenson/dp/069207600X


[1] DiNardo JC and Downs CA, Should We Use Products Containing Chemical UV-Absorbing Sunscreen Actives on Children? Clin Dermatol Res J 2019, 4:1.

[2] Williams SN, Dienes KA. Sunscreen Sales, Socio-Economic Factors, and Melanoma Incidence in Northern Europe: A Population-Based Ecological Study. SAGE Open October-December 2014: 1–6.

[3] Elizabet saes da SILVA, Roberto TAVARES, Felipe da silva PAULITSCH, Linjie ZHANG. Eur J Dermatol 2018; 28(2): 186-201.

[4] Kasey L. Morris, PhD; Frank M. Perna, EdD, PhD. Decision Tree Model vs Traditional Measures to Identify Patterns of Sun-Protective Behaviors and Sun Sensitivity Associated With Sunburn. JAMA Dermatol. Published online June 27, 2018.

[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-sunburns/sun-sensitive-people-need-more-than-sunscreen-to-avoid-sunburn-idUSKBN1K02RB

[6] https://www.webmd.com/beauty/news/20110714/sunscreen-users-more-likely-burn#1

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