Screen Your Sunscreen!

Screen Your Sunscreen!

Dr Cesar Lara

During these hot summer days, it is important to protect your skin from the sun in order to prevent burns and skin cancers. But could your sunscreen actually be harming you?

As it turns out, the FDA has little to no data regarding the safeness of the chemicals found in most of your common household sunscreens and its effects on the body. People have been absorbing high levels of chemicals found in sunscreens at potentially toxic levels (1). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention routinely detect benzonephenone-3  (2) in more than 96% of Americans.  These studies have found levels in people up to a hundred of times that of the recognized safety level.  Among the most common chemicals found include avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, ecamsule, and oxybenzone. FDA testing has “insufficient data” characterizing the absorption of these chemicals and their potential dangers. However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) took to it to test over 1,300 sunscreens available and their results found only 5% met their standards and over 40% were listed as potentially carcinogenic.

Many of the chemicals found are considered hormone disruptors that interfere with your body’s natural hormone production. A hormonal imbalance or increased estrogen (3) levels can make a viable environment for breast cancer cells to develop and grow. It may be a good idea especially for women and children to limit exposure to these estrogen- like chemicals.

Furthermore,  retinyl palmitate (4) , a derivative of vitamin A, often found in sunscreens was shown to speed up the growth of cancer cells by 21%.



Chemical sunscreens are the ones to stay away from if possible. These organic chemicals work like a sponge absorbing ultraviolet radiation through your skin and then convert it into a small amount of heat. They contain the active ingredients found above like oxybenzone and avabenzone. This type of sunscreen easily rubs onto your skin without any white residue.

Pay attention to inactive ingredients as well as active since inactive ingredients make up 50-70% of the sunscreen. A very common ingredient found to be of concern is the preservative methylisothiazolinone  (5) a major skin allergen.

Mineral sunscreens are hypoallergenic, natural, and great for sensitive skin. The active ingredients would include zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These minerals do not absorb into your skin because of their nanoparticles (6)and work by deflecting the absorption of UV rays.

Use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens– these minerals have been recognized as generally “safe and effective” (4) by both the FDA and EWG.

What is SPF?

SPF is the “Sunburn protection factor” telling you how much UBV light a sunscreen can block. It is generally recommended to have a sunscreen with an SPF of 30+. However, the EWG recommends avoiding sunscreens that claim to be over SPF 50. This is because while SPF 15 blocks 93% and SPF 30 blocks out 97% of UBV rays (7), SPF 50 still only blocks out 98% of rays. The EWG and FDA regard it as inherently misleading (4) since no amount of can block 100% of UBV rays.

Additionally, many companies claim to water proof but sunscreens can only be water resistant. Even then, it will only stay on for 40- 80 minutes until it is washed off and loses its effects.

Why wear Sunscreen?

Sunscreen is critical in protecting your skin from the sun. Broad-spectrum, water- resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher can prevent sunburn, decrease signs of aging skin, and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

What Can You Do?

  • If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin! While this may be easier said than done it is important to be mindful to what you put on your skin as it can easily be absorbed into your bloodstream
  • Protect from the inside out!- Avoid inflammatory foods like processed grains, vegetable oils and excess sugar- these provide an environment for cancer cells to live in. Eat skin healthy foods like coconut and sesame oil (which also opts as a natural sunscreen)  and get your proper doses of vitamin C and D3
  • Be aware as to also look at the ingredients of other skincare products. Oxybenzone can also been found nail polish, hairspray, and baby wipes!
  • If you want to go the extra mile- stop using your sunscreen in the form of aerosol sprays. These sprays have worse coverage than lotions or creams and not to mention are terrible for the environment. Hawaii and Key West, Florida have already banned chemical sunscreens (8) due to their connection to coral bleaching. Look for reef safe sunscreens

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