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Sunscreen Health Risks: Serious Dangers and How to Avoid Them

Detoxification Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

Woman lying in Solarium as sunscreenAvoiding sunscreen health risks - at a time when the ozone layer has been depleted and the risk of skin cancer has increased manyfold - is not easy. If you don't apply sunscreen, you risk exposing yourself to damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. If you do, you risk allowing potentially carcinogenic ingredients that go into sunscreen to penetrate your skin and enter your blood.

The ozone layer is the part of the atmosphere that protects us from cosmic radiation. The fact that it's been depleted has many negative consequences on our health, such as an increased incidence of skin and eye conditions.

To reduce the negative consequences of UV radiation, we are advised never to be in the sun unless we're wearing sunscreen because it helps prevent the sun's ultraviolet UV radiation from reaching the skin.

Unfortunately, sunscreen comes with some serious side effects, and to avoid sunscreen health risks, you first have to understand how UV radiation affects your health and why it's important to protect yourself from it. But even more importantly, you need to know that sunscreen, which is supposed to prevent skin cancer, can have many cancerogenic agents.

Dangers of UV Radiation

Skin cancer has become one of the most common types of cancer, and a major risk factor is prolonged exposure to UV radiation.

Sunscreen is a product that is applied topically and that can absorb or reflect some of the UV radiation, protecting you from sunburn. It's available as a gel, lotion, spray, ointment, cream, and wax stick.

There are two types of UV light:

  • UVA: associated with skin aging - This type of radiation easily penetrates windows and cloud cover and is the main type of light used in tanning beds. Although slightly less intense than UVB, it penetrates your skin more deeply. Long-term exposure to UVA causes genetic damage to skin cells leading to cell mutation and cancer. The tan you get when sunbathing is the skin's attempt to prevent further damage by darkening. Do you still think getting a tan is healthy?
  • UVB: associated with skin burning - UVB rays are particularly damaging at high altitudes or on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice. Although they do not penetrate glass, overexposure causes tan, sunburn, and blistering.

Sunscreen Health Risks

Sunscreen Lotion and sunscreen riskSun protection is essential for the prevention of skin cancer, sunburn, and premature aging, especially given the depleted ozone layer. However, although there is a lot of debate going on, it is no longer a secret that most chemical-based sunscreens come with potentially dangerous side effects. Sunscreen health risks come from certain ingredients that go into sunscreens such as tetracyclines, sulfa drugs, and phenothiazines.

Generally speaking, sunscreens function as either mineral or chemical UV filters.

  • Chemical sunscreens include a different combination of two to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.
  • Healthier mineral sunscreens are based on zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

Oxybenzone is a particularly problematic ingredient and is found in about 70 percent of all sunscreens. Combined with other chemicals, it has a disruptive effect on hormone function, can cause cell damage, increases the risk of breast cancer, and promotes skin tumors and lesions.

A recent study showed that within a single day of sunscreen application, the level of toxic chemicals exceeded the maximum allowable limit. In subsequent days, as the person continued to use sunscreen, the blood levels of these chemicals increased, suggesting that they easily accumulate in the blood over time.

How to Avoid Sunscreen Health Risks

Is it possible to protect your skin from damaging UV radiation without exposing it to unhealthy chemicals that most sunscreens are made of?

There are natural sunscreen alternatives that come with no harmful side effects. These are based on natural oils, plant extracts, and certain nutrients.

  • Oils - According to a 2011 study, sesame oil can resist 30 percent of UV rays, while coconut, peanut, olive, and cottonseed oil block out about 20 percent. So, although natural and perfectly safe to use even on children, these oils have a relatively low Sun Protection Factor (SPF). This makes them ideal for short periods in the sun, but not for day-long exposure to UV radiation.
  • Aloe vera - Aloe vera gel is an excellent natural remedy for skin damage both as a preventive measure and after the skin has been damaged.
  • Astaxanthin - Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring red pigment found in algae, salmon, trout, and shrimp and is super rich in carotenoids. This antioxidant is powerful protection from sun damage, so by including these foods in your diet, you can avoid sunscreen health risks. The reason astaxanthin is more effective than a topically applied sunscreen is that it accumulates in all the layers of the skin, while sunscreen can reach only the outermost layers.
  • Mineral sunscreens - These sunscreens are made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and are very effective and safe protection from UV radiation.

So, avoiding sunscreen health risk is possible with some forward planning and opting for alternative sun protection methods. The best alternative to sunscreens seems to be a combination of using natural oils with taking astaxanthin supplements for at least three months before your vacation.

Skin Products, Damage, and Repair

Woman Applying sunscreen and Sunscreen RiskOne of the main dangers of unprotected UV exposure is that such damage is cumulative and increases your skin cancer risk over time. This means that if you only occasionally expose your skin to the sun without any protection, your body will easily repair the DNA damage in your skin cells. However, if this is how you normally spend time outdoors, the unrepaired damage will build up over time, eventually causing malignant tumors.

However, using UV protection without being aware of sunscreen health risks is ignoring the very real risks of potentially very harmful chemicals. Sadly, despite all the benefits, sunscreen is a toxin which we have liberally applied to ourselves and our children for the past 50 years. The side effects of prolonged sunscreen use have only recently started to emerge, and we now know that most of the ingredients that go into sunscreen are not considered safe for one's health.

The skin is our largest organ, and, being porous, it easily absorbs whatever is applied to it. This is how we, usually unknowingly, allow many different kinds of toxins to get into our system through the skin. The most common ways we expose our skin to toxins is through the household cleaning agents, cosmetics, sunscreen, and using synthetic pesticides without adequate protection.

Although many pathogens are successfully prevented from penetrating the skin, those that do manage to get through are quickly absorbed into your system. The same goes for anything you apply on your skin or whatever you expose your skin to – sooner or later, it ends up inside your body. When you know that the majority of skincare products are a combination of carcinogenic chemicals and allergens, it becomes clear how much debris our detox organs have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

How To Help Your Body Detoxify

Fortunately, your body has a perfect mechanism for toxin elimination. It's called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, and the toxins we absorb through the skin, lungs, or gut, are just another type of stressor.

The Detoxification circuit of the NEM stress response model is comprised of the liver, the extracellular matrix (ECM), and the immune system. Together, they work to remove foreign substances and reactive metabolites that come as a result of stress.

Of all the organs involved in detox, the liver plays the most important part. It works hard to help you stay healthy and fit, and its key role is to process the toxins that find their way into the body, so they can be expelled through urine and bile.

However, if the liver becomes overloaded and unable to adequately filter the blood and produce enzymes that destroy toxins, they will start accumulating in your blood and gradually spread throughout the body.

At the beach with sunscreen and sunscreen riskThanks to the recent scientific advances, we now know that sunscreen health risks are increased manifold if you use the mainstream sunscreens, most of which contain oxybenzone which turns out to be very toxic to both us and the marine ecosystem.

If you've been using sunscreen regularly for many years, but your body is healthy and strong, you have nothing to worry about, as your liver has probably been successfully getting rid of the toxins, keeping the sunscreen health risks to a minimum.

However, if your detoxification system is compromised, such as by an unhealthy diet, long-term illness, or chronic stress, then your organs may be full of accumulated toxins.

Sunscreen health risks can be avoided or reduced by a strong immune system and a healthy liver. To improve your liver health and boost the toxin elimination process, try not to overload your liver, use only natural cosmetics and cleaning products, increase water intake to boost urination, take care of your gut health to avoid constipation, and engage in activities which promote sweating as often as you can.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Sunscreen is crucial for protecting your skin from UV radiation, sunburn, and premature aging, and although there are many sunscreen health risks, they are easy to avoid by scanning the ingredients and choosing a mineral-based rather than a chemical-based product.

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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