Does Sunscreen Cause Skin Cancer?
More than a million cases of skin cancer are reported in the U.S. annually. The
American Cancer Society, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the American Academy of Dermatology consider
sunscreen to be the magic potion in skin cancer prevention. While the sales of
sun protection products has been growing at about 5% a year so has incidences
of basal-cell, and squamous-cell carcinoma and deadly melanoma skin cancer.
Some experts suggest that these new cases may come from sun damage suffered
decades before. But, why do some studies show sunscreen users suffering more
In 1998, researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York
found sunscreen not only ineffective in stopping skin tumors but, to actually
increase the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form. In a comprehensive review of
ten studies, five showed those who used sunscreen had an increased risk of
developing melanoma. Since the 1970's, sunscreen use has become increasingly
common, yet the occurrences of melanoma continue to rise more sharply than any
other type of skin cancer. Does sunscreen cause cancer or is it the chemicals
in the product that promote cancer?
In Australia the role of sunscreen is downplayed. Australians consider sunscreen
as a very last resort. They consider it far more important to wear protective
clothing and stay in the shade. According to one of the designers of
Australia's prevention campaign, " relying on synthetic chemicals to prevent
skin cancer is laughable. It's like giving people saccharin and then telling
them they can eat whatever they want and stay thin." For the most part,
scientists continue to be baffled by the causes of melanoma. Many continue to
believe that the sun is the main initiator, yet, fail to explain why melanoma
cancers most often appear on areas of the body, such as the buttocks or soles
of the feet, that are not exposed to the sun.
Until around 1950, melanoma was rare. By the mid 1960's it began exploding into
the current epidemic. Yet, beaches were jammed on summer weekends in the
1930's, long before the invention of sunscreen, so why didn't the epidemic
start sooner? Melanoma is believed to have a lag time of 20 years, but even
factoring that in, the epidemic should have appeared a decade earlier.
As reported in Daily Dose 7/15/03 (William C. Douglas II, M.D.) : " I've been in
practice 17 years," says Dr. David Goldberg, who practices at the Mt Sinai
School of Medicine in New York City. " Seventeen years ago I saw people in
their 50's. Now I see fair-complected women in their 30's. Since these women
are probably dousing themselves with more sunscreens than their moms did,
because of the incessant propaganda about "sun-causes-cancer' from the
sunscreen companies and the doctors, maybe there is some link between the
screens and the increase in skin cancers. In other words...Are the skin screens
causing skin cancer?"
Sunscreen Provides A False Sense Of Protection
The ultraviolet energy (uv) provided by sunlight is composed of UVA, UVB, and
UVC wavelengths. The UVC rays are absorbed in the atmosphere and are of little
concern. Sunscreens, categorically block the UVB rays but do not uniformly
block all UVA rays. The SPF (sun protection factor), whether it be 8, 15, or
45, only measures UVB protection. According to Michael and Mary Dan Eades, both
M.D.s, "this is one of the real dangers in using sunscreens as they offer a
false sense of protection for those who feel they can bask in the sun without
worry." As reported in Conscious Choice (June, 2000), the Eades have taken a
careful, reasoned and research-referenced approach to sunbathing in their book,
The Protein Power Lifeplan, which they call "a blueprint for optimal health."
Dr. Zane Kime, author of the book "Sunlight", firmly believes that most suntan
lotions, when used in the sun, can stimulate the formation of cancer cells. He
says its the fat in the lotions that causes the problem. He recommends
gradually building up your time in the sun and to use no sunscreens if you have
moderate to dark skin. If you have fair skin or you must be out in the midday
sun for more than thirty minutes, he suggests using a sunscreen, but one that
does not contain PABA.
The Eades also question the oil bases used in sunscreens and theorize that these
unstable oils form damaging and potentially cancer-causing compounds called
lipid peroxides. Much like the "bad oils" in the standard American diet, the
oil bases in sunscreens could find their way in the skin cells.
One of the biggest benefits of sunshine is that the UVB rays activate a chemical
change in our skin that manufactures vitamin D, the nutrient that ensures
strong, healthy bones. Research has shown that sunscreen halts the production
of vitamin D in the body. Without vitamin D children's bones fail to mineralize
and deficiencies in adults can lead to osteomalachia in which bones
demineralize and become weak.
People at the greatest risk for skin cancer are those with the lightest skin,
hair, and eyes. Light- skinned people with a large number of moles seem to be
at the greatest risk for melanoma and should be especially careful to limit sun
Comment: We are beginning to see how "the bad" fats affect our health both
internally and externally as well. Ultimately, gradual, moderate uv exposures,
without burning may prove to be the safest defense in minimizing the risk of
skin cancer. But, the American lifestyle is one of speed and convenience. We
have come to expect fast cars, fast food, and fast tans. Have we become