Updated: 5 days ago
In 2022, the widespread use of sunscreens has, unfortunately, resulted in an increase in skin cancers.
Going in the Wrong Direction
Sunscreens were introduced in the 1970s, yet here we are fifty years later with a shocking increase in the incidence of melanoma. In the United States in 1970, the incidence rate for melanoma was 5.7 per 100,000. Between 1973 and 2011, the overall rate increased 200 percent, and the rate for children and white female young adults increased 253 percent.
If sunscreens actually worked, the incidence of skin cancer would be going down, right? To understand why they are not, we have to look at the basic premise of sunscreens and recognize that the entire concept of ultraviolet (UV) protection is wrong.
Although UVB rays are what cause the typical sunburn and blocking UVB does stop the skin from turning red, the sunburn is the body’s warning sign that it is time to get out of the sun because you have run out of your natural protective nutrients that prevent damage from the sun. Blocking the sunburn is just as dangerous as cutting the wire to the red warning light on the dash of your car!
When the incidence of melanoma continued to rise following the approval of UVB-blocking sunscreens, the FDA created new regulations in 1988 requiring that sunscreens also block UVA, which penetrates more deeply into the skin.
This second generation of sunscreens is referred to as “broad spectrum”—that is, sunscreens that block both UVB and UVA radiation.
Other than UV radiation, the rest of the solar radiation spectrum includes visible wavelengths (49 percent) and near infrared (NIR) wavelengths (47 percent). Nothing applied to the skin can stop these deeply penetrating NIR wavelengths. As they go deeper into our skin, they cause damage to structures inside the skin, including cancer.
Studies published in the 1990s admitted that sunshine had not been proven to cause melanoma or skin cancers. In 1994, researchers reported that “sunscreens failed to protect against UV radiation-induced increase in melanoma incidence.”
Several investigators also found a higher incidence of basal cell carcinomas with sunscreen use and stated in 1990 that their findings did not show that sunscreens prevented basal cell carcinoma.
For non-melanoma skin cancers, a 2015 Australian study reported that their incidence had climbed to 2,448 per 100,000 person-years by 2011, up from 555 per 100,000 person-years in 1985.
The FDA has approved sixteen UV-filtering chemicals for use as sunscreen ingredients. Six of these chemicals block UVB: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene and titanium dioxide.
We have been mindlessly using these chemicals without realizing that they were not subject to full research before the FDA approved them for use in sunscreens. In fact, every chemical approved by FDA for SPF (solar protective factor) rating is toxic to the body .
Animal and human studies have shown that all of these chemicals impair hormonal pathways.
These chemicals are well-documented endocrine (hormone) disruptors. Structurally mimicking the shape of our hormones, they bind to the body’s hormone receptors, blocking the ability of our hormones to attach to their receptors, thereby preventing them from performing their life-preserving functions.
Many studies corroborate the hormone disruptions, showing that benzophenones disrupt estrogen, testosterone and thyroid and receptors.
Oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene and titanium dioxide are all absorbed through the skin.
Multiple studies confirm substantial absorption and distribution of these chemicals throughout the whole body.
After application to the skin, each of these toxic chemicals is detected in the bloodstream within five minutes, with traces of each of them found in all tissues examined. The liver absorbs the highest amount, followed by the kidney, spleen and testicles.
After repeated topical applications, these chemicals accumulate in the blood, liver and brain, creating toxicity to nerve cells (neurons).
A study with human volunteers who applied sunscreens containing these chemicals for two weeks, detected all three sunscreen chemicals in blood and urine, along with alterations in reproductive hormone levels.
Observing the amount of these ‘‘estrogenic’’ sunscreen compounds in the blood, the researchers expressed concern for children who have not reached puberty, because they are more sensitive to low levels of reproductive hormones.
Young children are also less able to eliminate drugs and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults, which can result in greater absorption and build-up within their bodies. The researchers concluded that sunscreens “have greater adverse effects in children.”
In 2012, another group of researchers made similar observations about the risks that sunscreen ingredients pose to children:
“Few human studies have investigated potential side effects of UV-filters, although human exposure is high as UV-filters in sunscreens are rapidly absorbed through the skin. Each of these UV-filters has been found in 96 percent of urine samples in the U.S. and several UV-filters in 85 percent of breast milk samples. It seems pertinent to evaluate whether exposure to UV-filters contribute to possible adverse effects on the developing organs of [fetuses] and children.
” This situation is all the more tragic because chemical filters are fat-soluble (meaning that they can combine with or dissolve into fat); this allows them to cross the blood-brain barrier readily, impairing nerve transmission and producing toxic effects to the nerves.
As if the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) were not bad enough, sunscreen manufacturers are now advertising sunscreen formulations as “Kid Safe”. This is a total misrepresentation of the truth. Two of the UV filters found in sunscreens—zinc oxide (ZnO) and titanium dioxide (TiO2), both mistakenly considered safe, are both extremely toxic in their own way.
Many individuals are probably familiar with the whitening qualities of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in their bulk white paste form. In the past, regulators believed that these larger size particles were safe. Based on this assumption, in 1999, the FDA approved—without evidence of safety—the use of nanosize and micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particles in sunscreens and other consumer products.
Manufacturers developed these vastly smaller particles to trick the eye and get around the cosmetically unappealing residue left by the bulk white paste. However, subsequent research has shown that both the bulk paste and smaller particles are equally harmful. A 2015 study that compared titanium dioxide in nanoparticle form to its bulk form found that both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide produced cell membrane damage just twenty-four hours after application.
Growing Evidence of Harm
Another study examined three types of metallic nanoparticles, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and aluminum oxide, administering oral doses of each for twenty-one consecutive days. The researchers observed that this resulted in toxicity to brain nerve cells, with nanoparticles found inside the cells and nucleus, oxidative stress in red blood cells in the liver and disrupted antioxidant enzymes. The zinc oxide nanoparticles were the most toxic, followed by aluminum oxide and titanium dioxide.
In another study, application of titanium dioxide nanoparticles over sixty days caused pathological lesions (injury) in the skin, liver and brain and also reduced collagen in the skin, creating skin aging. The researchers concluded:
“Altogether, the present study indicates that these chemicals pose a health risk to humans after dermal exposure over a relatively short time period.” This proof of long-term damage goes against the claims made by manufacturers that long-term sunscreen use will decrease skin aging.
Sunscreens in spray bottles, promoted as convenient, can be even more harmful, because inhalation of residual spray is associated with increased exposure of the brain to zinc nanoparticles because the olfactory nerves (nose) directly transport the nanoparticles into the brain.
Inhaled nanoparticles also cause lung damage, which allows the nanoparticles to travel through the blood to all tissues and organs, creating oxidative damage in the brain, lungs, blood, lymph nodes, liver, kidney and spleen.
Those who wish to protect themselves should avoid using any spray sunscreens and should stay away from anyone spraying themselves, as it is carried by the wind and can contaminate everyone in the area.
Many published studies have shown that sunscreen chemicals alter and interfere with reproduction. As long ago as 1992, the U.S. government published research that identified body-wide toxicity from the sunscreen chemical HMB (2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone). The alterations included cellular death, weight gain and damage to both liver and kidneys. This report on HMB also found that the chemical caused reproductive toxicity, with a lengthened menstrual cycle and decreased sperm count.
At least nine studies of titanium dioxide nanoparticles show reproductive harm, including problems that could result in impaired fertility. The wide-ranging reproductive effects identified in these studies include increased cell death, premature and inhibited egg development, death of ovary cells, deformed follicle growth, cellular and DNA toxicity, cellular changes in testicular tissue, decreased testicular weight, decreased testosterone, reduced sperm quality, placenta toxicity and neurotoxicity to neonatal as well as to adult brains.
The fact that titanium dioxide nanoparticles do not leave the body makes their reproductive effects particularly troubling. Females should guard against using products that contain titanium dioxide or other products that potentially contain other toxic chemicals such as zinc oxide.
Unfortunately, almost all makeup today contains titanium dioxide. If a makeup or other product has an SPF ranking, it automatically contains one or more of the harmful materials described in this article. In fact, the FDA will not even allow products to be tested for a SPF value ranking unless they contain one of their “approved” sunscreen chemicals. Women should take care to use only cosmetics that do not have any SPF rating.
There is no doubt that sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body through the skin. It is imperative to study the extent to which they transfer to the fetus and whether and how they interfere with the child’s development. Although the placenta has specialized cells to prevent toxins from entering the fetus while it is developing, this protective barrier does not block passage of nanoparticles.
One study found that gestational exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles significantly impaired placental growth and development. Another study showed that when pregnant women were treated with titanium dioxide nanoparticles, the nanoparticles concentrated in the hippocampus of the brain. This can cause significant impairment in learning and memory (critical functions that the hippocampus performs).
Ordinarily, the body is able to counter the oxidation reactions that occur continually throughout the whole body, preventing inflammation in the tissues so that it does not disrupt normal functioning. However, research indicates that titanium dioxide exposure during pregnancy may impair the development of the brain and central nervous system of the child, disrupting antioxidation reactions within the brain and altering neurotransmitter functions; this in turn may result in altered neurobehavioral performance and conditions diagnosed as psychiatric.
Studies also show that titanium dioxide disrupts the body’s ability to perform its continual DNA repair, which is essential to maintain good health. All these alterations of chemicals within the brain cannot help but lead to alterations in behavior.
A Japanese study of maternal exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles found significant alterations in one thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven genes in the brains of offspring within the first twenty-one days of development. The altered genes were associated with brain development, cell death, response to oxidative stress, brain mitochondria, inflammation and neurotransmitters.
The study’s results indicate that exposure to nanoparticles in pregnancy “can alter gene expression in the neonatal period and might cause the onset of psychiatric disorders even in adulthood,” particularly since the genes in question are involved in disorders including autism, anxiety disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), blood-brain barrier alterations, epilepsy, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.
Sunscreens with endocrine-disrupting chemicals also have developmental and long-term implications. A study that analyzed maternal blood, amniotic fluid, cord blood and fetal blood detected oxybenzone in the amniotic fluid, cord blood and fetal blood, showing that this toxin can get through to the developing fetus.
Moreover, these toxic chemicals are being absorbed into our bodies and are creating multigenerational health effects.
Many young people today are stating that they are confused as to their sexual orientation. It is no wonder, the use of estrogenic and anti-testosterone sunscreen chemicals for the last forty years could be one reason that males and females are experiencing gender identity confusion in ever greater numbers.
It is known that testosterone secreted by fetal testicles plays a key role in the permanent organization of the developing central nervous system toward masculine patterns. This means that males exposed to these chemicals in utero are subject to disruption of the development of normal masculine character traits. And not only are fetuses exposed to strong chemicals capable of altering natural sexual patterning, but the exposure to these estrogenic and anti-testosterone chemicals then continues throughout their lives.
Avoidance is the Best Solution
Sunscreen chemicals create many life-altering changes. The bottom line is that, following decades of using sunscreens with substances that were never safe to begin with, we now have sunscreens that have been made even more unsafe with the inclusion of tiny particles that more easily penetrate the skin and tissues, making them even more biologically reactive. Brought to market without proper testing for safety, the microscopic size of nanoparticles also makes it difficult to measure them and document the damage.
The reality is that there is plenty of proof of harm that reduced-size titanium dioxide and zinc oxide should be banned.
Although articles have described hormone disruptions from endocrine-disrupting chemicals for decades—and new studies keep revealing the same harm—they have not attracted adequate attention. By ignoring this evidence, we have created whole generations that feel uncertain regarding their maleness or femaleness.
Fortunately, information about the risks of endocrine-disrupting sunscreen chemicals is finally starting to encourage the public to avoid sunscreens.
Some investigators are starting to recommend that women avoid products containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles during pregnancy, but because the nanoparticles are difficult to remove from the body, it would be far better to avoid any exposure at all.
Bottom Line: Avoid sunscreens like the toxic plague that they are. Enjoy the sun, but like everything else in life, moderation is the key.