May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. This month, many kids will graduate or finish up their final obligations for the academic year. Families will plan long-anticipated vacations to the beach, mountains, and other favorite destinations where they’ll hopefully get a rest from the stress of daily life.
Before heading out, many will slather themselves and their children with a liberal layer of sunscreen in an attempt to protect against the sun’s harmful rays. But new research shows that ingredients in the sunscreen could actually put you at higher risk for developing skin cancer and other medical issues.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) recently examined several decades worth of scientific research with regard to chemicals found in common household products. They discovered that phthalates, which are used to make plastics parabens found in sunscreen, may be contributing to rising incidence of cancer, reduced fertility and obesity.
Coupled with this disturbing revelation is recent news from researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology which suggests that zinc oxide, an main ingredient of many conventional sunscreens, may actually accelerate skin cancer risk.
Dr. Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T, and his graduate student Qingbo Yang, suggest that when exposed to sunlight, zinc oxide undergoes a chemical reaction that may release unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals seek to bond with other molecules, but in the process, they can damage cells or the DNA contained within those cells. This in turn could increase the risk of skin cancer.
According to Ma, when the zinc oxide nano-particles in the solution absorb the UV rays, the reaction releases electrons, which in turn may produce unstable free radical molecules in the zinc oxide solution. Those free radical molecules then bond with other molecules and act as parasites, damaging the other molecules in the process.
As the Environmental Working Group has documented for years, the Food and Drug Administration is disturbingly silent when it comes to informing of the risk posed by sunscreens and protecting consumers from these potential damaging ingredients. “The U.S. lags far behind Europe, Japan and Australia in providing consumers with high quality sunscreens. The FDA is also slow to evaluate and approve better sunscreen ingredients and allow new combinations, making it impossible for U.S. formulators to achieve the highest level of UVA protection in products (Osterwalder 2009).”
Check out the EWG’s list of top-rated sunscreens, none of which contain any sunscreen chemical considered to be a potential hormone disruptor. Unfortunately most still contain the minerals zinc or titanium, which could be more trouble than they’re worth in light of this new research. As always, the best protecting against the sun is a shirt and hat.