Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

Is Your Sunscreen Safe

Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

Recently on the CBC I heard a doctor discussing the dangers of sunscreen. It spurred me to do some investigating of my own and the results were surprising. Here is a brief outline of what I discovered.

The 3 types of skin cancer

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) which accounts for 80% of skin cancers but rarely metastasizes or kills.
  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) which accounts for 16% of skin cancers.
  3. Malignant Melanoma which account for only 4% of skin cancers but is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

In the past, scientists assumed that if we could prevent sunburns this would also protect us from skin cancer. It turns out that this may not be the case. Sunlight that reaches the earth is made up of two different types of ultraviolet light, UVA and UVB. Experts agree that it is the exposure to this ultraviolet radiation that contributes to deadly melanomas. There are important differences in the two types of radiation.

UVB Radiation vs UVA Radiation


  • shorter wavelength
  • infrared light
  • 3-5% of total UV radiation
  • only penetrates the outer layer of skin
  • primary cause of sun burning


  • longer wavelength
  • visible light
  • 95-97% of total UV radiation
  • penetrates deep into skin where it causes DNA damage
  • doesn't cause a burn
  • thought to be responsible for skin cancer

Most consumers are familiar with SPF - the Sun Protection Factor number on the bottle that measures the amount of protection it provides against the suns UVB rays. However, while UVB rays have mainly short-term visible effects like sunburns and irritation, the damage caused by the sun's UVA rays is more complex and long-term which might be why UVA isn't better understood.

This is why it is imperative that when you purchase a sunscreen you choose one that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation.

What is coming to light now is that there doesn't seem to be a consensus on whether sunscreen actually protects us from cancer. Some research shows that there actually is an increase in melanomas in sunscreen users. The reason is thought to be that sunscreen users tend to stay out in the sun longer with false sense of security. And if the wearer is blocking only UVB rays, that prevent a burn, then they are not getting the message that they have been in the sun too long and UVA exposure actually increases!

Another concern for the increase in melanomas with sunscreen users was the possibility that the ingredients in sunscreen breakdown when exposed to sunlight.

Avoid the following ingredients in your sunscreen:

Vitamin A or retinyl palmitate as it may accelerate skin damage and increase skin cancer risk when it is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin A is photo-carcinogenic. This means that in the presence of the sun's ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer. Vitamin A is typically added to skin care products as an antioxidant to slow aging but should only be used indoors in night creams, for example. Some concerns were also raised for women of childbearing age as in excessive doses, vitamin A and retinol act as teratogens and can cause birth defects.

Oxybenzone, which is a hormone disrupting compound, is found in about 60% of sunscreens. Look for this compound in the active ingredients list on the bottle. Bio-monitoring surveys determined 97% of the population has oxybenzone stored in their body.

Nano materials are nano-sized minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that react with the UV light and are disruptive to hormones and damage skin cells.

Good luck finding a product that does not contain any of these 3 ingredients. Your choice is between, chemical sunscreens (containing oxybenzone) with inferior stability, that penetrate the skin and disrupt hormones and mineral sunscreens, that contain micronized nano particles.

This year, with the current research, I'll be using mineral sunscreens. They are more stable in light and do not appear to penetrate the skin. Mineral sunscreens also offer a physical block of UVA and UVB radiation. I also advise you not to depend on your sunscreen as your primary protection from the sun. Please wear a hat, stay covered and stay in the shade.

For more information of sunscreen safety, visit Environmental Working Group's website at or contact Maggie Amos, BPE, ND.

Sunscreen brands to choose

Pic of Sunscreen Lotion
  • All Terrain
  • Badger
  • Beyond Coastal
  • California Baby
  • Caribbean Solutions
  • Desert Essence
  • Episencial
  • Estion
  • Jason
  • Kabana
  • L'uvalia Certified Organic
  • La Roche-Posay
  • Little Forest
  • Loving Naturals
  • Miessence
  • Purple Prairie Botanicals
  • Solio Organics
  • thinkbaby and thinksport
  • Trukid
  • UV Natural
  • Vanicream