How Much Faith Do You Put in Your Sunscreen?

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

Views 9.2
Shares 10
Hearts 0.0
Comments 10
Editor's Pick 0.0
Total Ecosystem Rating 0.0
0 Do you love this article? Show the author your support by hearting.

Are you relying on sunscreen to protect against skin cancer?

According to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there is surprisingly little proof that sunscreens prevent most skin cancers! (1)

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, “Sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin cancer prevention and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the sun.” (IARC 2001a)

Find out which sunscreen ingredients you must avoid, and learn some natural and dietary strategies to protect your skin from the sun.

According to the EWG report cited above, a wide range of public health agencies—including the FDA—have found very little evidence that sunscreen prevents most types of skin cancer.

In fact, the FDA has proposed prohibiting the sale of sunscreens with an SPF value greater than 50+, “because of the absence of data demonstrating additional clinical benefit.” (FDA 2011a) In other words, just because a sunscreen has a high SPF, it may not mean that it is providing any additional protection against the sun.

Sunscreen Does Not Protect Against All Skin Cancers

Studies do show that regular sunscreen use reduces the risk of squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC), but not necessarily that of other types of skin cancer. Squamous-cell cancer, a slow-growing, treatable disease, is estimated to account for just 16 percent of all skin cancers.

Of the remaining cancers, 80 percent are basal-cell carcinoma and four percent are malignant melanoma, according to a review published by the American Cancer Society. (Greelee 2001)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that:

•    Sunscreen use may decrease the occurrence of squamous-cell carcinoma.
•    Sunscreen use has no demonstrated influence on basal-cell carcinoma.

In intentional sun exposure situations, such as staying outdoors for long periods of time, sunscreen use may increase the risk of melanoma. (IARC 2001a, Autier 2009)

To Nano or Not to Nano

While conventional zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally considered safe, consumers complain of the “white nose effect”—an unsightly white film left on the skin. As a result, in typical American fashion, the sunscreen companies processed these mineral sun blocks into microscopic particles, called nano particles, which result in no white residue—voila!

Researchers mostly agree that these nano particles will have a toxic effect if they penetrate the skin. While the EWG has not found studies stating that these nano particles do, in fact, penetrate the skin, Jonathon Wright M. D. has pointed to some alarming research in his well respected Nutrition and Healing Newsletter:

•    Researchers at UCLA stated that it is probably accurate to regard nano-material as potentially hazardous waste until proven otherwise.
•    Studies using colon cells exposed to nano particles of zinc oxide showed the nano particles to be twice as toxic as non-nano zinc oxide, the particles of which are just too big to penetrate the skin.
•    In 2010, human in vitro skin cells were deeply penetrated by nano sized titanium dioxide, not just through the skin but all the way to the nucleus of the cell.

Solution:  Go “Non-Nano”

Because many manufactures are proud to advertise their nano particle sunscreens, they are typically easy to spot on a label. At the same time, many health-conscious sunscreen manufacturers are equally willing to label their sunscreen as “non-nano.”

Look for sunscreens with Non-Nano Zinc Oxide (also found in most diaper rash creams). Non-Nano Titanium Dioxide would be the second choice, as the degree of its safety is still unclear.

Vitamin A, a Common Sunscreen Ingredient, May Speed the Development of Cancer

According to the 2012 EWG report, (1) data from an FDA study indicates that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to skin in the presence of sunlight (NTP 2009). This evidence is troubling, because the sunscreen industry adds vitamin A to 25 percent of all sunscreens.

Vitamin A is used in sunscreens as an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. While that may be safe for lotions and night creams used indoors, the FDA recently conducted a study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties—studying the possibility that it may promote cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight.

In the FDA’s one-year preliminary study, tumors and lesions developed more quickly in lab animals coated in a vitamin A-laced cream than animals treated with a vitamin A-free cream.

Solution:  Avoid retinol and retinyl palmitate in sunscreens.

The EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens with vitamin A. On product labels, it often appears as retinyl palmitate or retinol. Look for these ingredients on the label and avoid products that contain them.

Do Sunscreens Do More Harm than Good?

There is no doubt that sunscreens will protect the skin from harmful free radical damage from the sun’s UV radiation. However, sunscreens also produce free radicals that can damage the skin from both the active and inactive ingredients. When they break down under the heat of the sun, these harmful free radicals can be trapped on the skin for hours. The EWG put out a list of sunscreen chemicals that are considered safe and those that should be avoided.

Sunscreen ingredients with the highest concern for exposure and toxicity:

•    4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC)
•    Benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone)
•    3-Benzylidene camphor O
•    Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC)
•    Padimate O

See the full report at

Sunscreen ingredients with the lowest concern for human exposure and toxicity:

•    Avobenzone
•    Mexoryl SX
•    Octisalate
•    Tinosorb M
•    Tinosorb S

Note:  Non nano zinc oxide may also be considered safe. Non nano titanium dioxide may also be safe but research is not conclusive.

Sunscreens Block Cancer-Protecting Vitamin D3

The main source of vitamin D3 is from sunshine. Regular use of sunscreens can block the production of vitamin D3 on the skin. Vitamin D3 strengthens bones and the immune system, reduces the risk of various cancers (including skin, breast, colon, kidney and ovarian cancers) and regulates at least a thousand different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body.

When using sunscreens, it is important to know your vitamin D3 levels. Some people can make enough vitamin D3 from 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure several times a week. Many others cannot. The amount of time needed to produce enough vitamin D3 depends on the individual’s age, skin tone, the intensity of sunlight, sunscreen use, time outdoors and skin cancer risk.

Solution:  Boost your Vitamin D3

Experts agree that the most beneficial range for vitamin D3 in the body is 50-80ng/ml, which must be determined by a blood test.

Carrots by CLC Photography

A Natural Dietary Sunscreen

In an uncontrolled trial, researchers found that taking 50,000 IU of vitamin A orally, two days to two weeks before sunshine exposure, helped to increase the length of time before the skin became pink or burned. (2)

I am not suggesting that you take such large amounts of vitamin A in supplement form, as the RDI is only 4-5000 IU, but this is a very easy dose to achieve from foods rich in beta-carotene. More than half of the beta-carotene in foods is converted into vitamin A. Here are some of the highest dietary sources of beta carotene, in just 3.5 ounces of each food:

•    Spirulina – 250,000 IU
•    Blue green algae – 70,000 IU
•    Wheat grass – 66,000 IU
•    Chlorella – 55,000 IU
•    Carrots – 28,000 IU
•    Sweet Potatoes – 26,000 IU

Alternatively, you can eat 3.5 ounces of beef liver and get 44,000 IU of real, already converted vitamin A.

Ayurvedic Sunscreen

In India, to help folks cope with the hot sun, Ayurvedic doctors formulated herbalized oils and butters to protect skin and build its natural resiliency.

According to Ayurveda, increasing the skin’s resiliency is more effective than simply blocking out the sun.

In 1996, I started working with a natural pharmacist to create such a product. LifeSpa’s Body Butter is a combination of mango, shea, avocado and other butters cooked with organic herbs, all of which have natural sun protective properties and/or support the health and natural function of the skin.

Body Butter, now with topical vitamin D, is a natural sunscreen that appears to have a cumulative effect on helping the skin function as a healthy organ and protect itself against the elements. It has a low SPF, which means it is most effective with frequent applications. New research shows that all sunscreens, no matter how high the SPF, should be re-applied every 60-90 minutes, as they do break down.* Studies show this to be true even with sunscreens with an SPF of 50.

Patients tell me that Body Butter works best when used consistently for one to two weeks before sun exposure. In addition, Body Butter may help restore your skin’s natural elasticity, which helps your skin look and feel more youthful.

Final Recommendations

I recommend avoiding extended sun exposure. Use clothes, hats and shade as your best defense against sun damage. Then, use a natural sunscreen with a lower SPF and apply it more frequently*.  If you experience extreme exposure or have delicate skin, use a non-nano zinc oxide as a block*.

Much of the content in this newsletter has been excerpted from:
2. Nutrition and Healing, Jonathon Wright MD. Vol 19, Issue 2. April 2012

Like elephant health and wellness on Facebook.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

Views 9.2
Shares 10
Hearts 0.0
Comments 10
Editor's Pick 0.0
Total Ecosystem Rating 0.0
0 Do you love this article? Show the author your support by hearting.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

anonymous Nov 29, 2012 11:06am

[…] […]

anonymous Jul 15, 2012 10:54am

[…] of us are aware that chemically-based sunscreens are a health […]

anonymous Jul 15, 2012 2:22am

[…] How Much Faith Do You Put in Your Sunscreen? ( […]

anonymous Jul 5, 2012 12:09am

[…] How Much Faith Do You Put in Your Sunscreen? ( […]

anonymous Jun 26, 2012 2:21pm

[…] is here, and sometimes a day in the sun without sufficient protection leads to […]

anonymous Jun 22, 2012 10:44am

As an ecologist, ie: a person who has studied natural ecosystems and evolutionary ecology, I cannot for one minute believe the notion that the sun is dangerous to humans. People would have lived and hunted outdoors for all of our history. In so doing we would have been exposed to the sun a great deal. So it makes sense to me that the skin would respond to the sun by converting cholesterol into vitamin D, a useful biological process.

On the other hand humans would not have lathered on baby oil and laid out in the sun to get a tan so perhaps that's where our problems begin: more leisure time and a different way of interacting with the environment.

My personal take on suntan lotions is to avoid them as much as possible. I think they are carcinogenic. I make a deliberate effort to spend 15 or 20 minutes in the sun each day, as near to naked as the situation allows, thus exposing skin to sunlight. If I'm going to be out in intense sun for a length of time, such as I will be when fly fishing or canoeing a river, then I will cover up, where a cool hat, use a sunscreen that uses titanium dioxide and enjoy myself immensely.


anonymous Jun 7, 2012 12:08pm

The premise of this article is crap. Sunscreens do prevent skin cancers! You argument is based on something that is not even a real study and something not published in a real medical journal. You are taking one line of a pseudo-study out of context. The EWG is a consumer group not a group of scientist or doctors!

As someone with a dermatologist in the family that treats skin cancer on a regular basis and with another family member who has skin cancer I find this article very disturbing to read. How does trash like this keep ending up on elephant journal?

Staying out of the sun and wearing clothing that cover bare skin is the best defence obviously but wearing a sunscreen with an spf of 15 or higher everyday is the next best line of defence. Talk to your doctor and dont get advice from random internet studies.


In general, a sunscreen with:

SPF 2 blocks 50 percent of UVB rays
SPF 4 blocks 75 percent of UVB rays
SPF 8 blocks 87 percent of UVB rays
SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays
SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays
SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays
SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of UVB rays

If you sweat or swim, reapply. Each time about a short glass worth of sunscreen.

Read The Best Articles of March
You voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares.

Dr. John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda and sports medicine. He is the creator of, the leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web with over 7 million views on YouTube. LifeSpa is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world with over 1000 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom backed by modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development and nutrition advisor for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of 7 health books, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and featured in USA Today, LA Times, and dozens of other national publications. He has been in practice for over 30 years and has seen over 100,000 patients. —————————————————————————————————–
Subscribe to Dr. John’s video-newsletter! As a subscriber, you’ll get special discounts on products, you’ll be the first to know about free podcasts and online trainings with Dr. John, and you’ll receive his cutting-edge articles proving ancient Ayurvedic wisdom with modern science! – sign up for free!