By Dr. Jessica Warnecke, PT, DPT, OCS
With the use of sunscreen becoming more and more popular, why are skin cancer rates rising at an alarming rate as well? Did you know that an estimated 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day in the United States (American, 2019).
As the days get longer and the nights get shorter, more and more time is being spent out in the sun. With this extended time, it is important to protect your body from the sun’s harmful rays, and for a long time now, sunscreen has been the go to for protection. Recently, however, several studies have brought up the question: are the chemicals used in sunscreen actually more harmful than the sun's rays?
The answer is yes and no. Recent reports reveal that sunscreens that use a chemical barrier to protect skin from the sun rather than a mineral one, may actually cause more harm than good. Oxybenzone, the most common sunscreen chemical, has been found to disrupt hormone processes in the body. It can reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), out of the 1,400+ sunscreens they tested, over 40% were listed as potentially contributing to skin cancer. One of the reasons for this is that retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A derivative often used in sunscreens, has been shown to increase the growth of cancerous cells by 21% (Wells, 2019). Sunscreen sprays have also been found to be dangerous, especially if inhaled or used on the face.
Don’t let these statistics scare you away from using sunscreen all together! There are safe, protective options out there for you. The safest options for protection, of course, are to seek shade in the heat or wear protective clothing; however, there are safe sunscreens out there that provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Mineral sunscreens include ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These create a physical layer of protection for the skin from the sun’s rays, rather than using chemicals (Wells, 2019). Dermatologists agree that these sunscreens are safe and effective for sensitive skin and children.
And if your solution to protecting yourself from the sun is to not go out in the sun at all, trust me that is not the route you want to take! Skin exposure to sufficient sunlight gives your body the ability to produce vitamin D. This pro-hormone not only helps absorb calcium to build stronger bones, it also plays a role in the life cycle of human cells. Vitamin D has been shown to help regulate the immune and neuromuscular system along with supporting lung function and cardiovascular health (Ware, 2017).
While there are plenty of supplements to take or foods to eat that may provide minimal levels of vitamin D, neither of these tactics are quite as effective as being exposed to the sun. By going out in the sunlight between ten in the morning to three in the afternoon, with about 10% of your skin exposed to the sun’s rays, you are providing your body with enough time to create your necessary vitamin D (Merz, 2015). It is recommended to always keep your face and ears covered with sunscreen or a hat, but to allow your arms, legs, back and abdomen to be exposed for 10-15 minutes a day (Holick, 2018).
With the weather hitting its warmest temperatures this month, keep in mind the benefits that come with a healthy dose of sun exposure. Be sure to check the labels of the sunscreen products you buy to be sure they are the safest, most protective options. The right balance of a safe sunscreen use along with adequate sun exposure can lead to tremendous health benefits!
1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2019.
2. Merz, B. (2015, August 07). Want to get enough vitamin D? Try supplements - or sunshine. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/want-to-get-enough-vitamin-d-try-supplements-or-sunshine-201508078174
3. Ware, M., RDN LD. (2017, November 13). What are the health benefits of vitamin D? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/161618.php
4. Wells, K. (2019, June 10). Sunscreen Safety: SPF, UVA, UVB, Oxybenzone & Vitamin D | Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/55366/sunscreen-is-harmful/
Meet Your Therapist
Jessica has been in Austin, TX for the past four years. She grew up in Idaho and attended PT school at Idaho State University. She completed an Orthopaedic Residency and became a Board Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist in 2016.