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May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and as concerns for skin cancer rise, more and more people are following the advice to liberally apply sunscreen several times a day and avoid the sun as much as possible. But as I learned the hard way, sunscreen isn’t without its own risks. A new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that it only takes one day of sunscreen application for blood levels of 4 commonly used sunscreen chemicals to rise high enough to trigger an FDA safety investigation.
Sunscreens work by blocking the absorption of UV radiation into the skin. The active ingredients either reflect, absorb, or scatter these rays to prevent skin damage, and the FDA currently regulates these chemical as over-the-counter (OTC) drug products. These sunscreen chemicals were initially approved for use in small quantities on an occasional basis to prevent sunburn – not for frequent daily use as a preventative.
The concern is that even modest applications a few times a day add up to multiple grams of sunscreen being used per day, including on infants as young as 6 months old. And what you put on your skin is ultimately absorbed into your systemic circulation.
The FDA study looked at the absorption of 4 commonly used sunscreen chemicals: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule. By the end of the first day, all but one study participant had statistically significant blood levels of the chemicals. Particularly concerning was the amount of oxybenzone that was absorbed, which was 50 to 100 times higher than any of the other chemicals tested. The Environmental Working Group estimates that at least two-thirds of all chemical based sunscreens sold in the US use oxybenzone as their active ingredient.
This isn’t the first time oxybenzone has raised a red flag. Back in 2008, the CDC analyzed urine samples from a government study and detected the chemical in 97 percent of the samples. Since then, researchers have further studied and found oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor, with links to lower testosterone levels in adolescent males, hormone changes in men, and pregnancy disruptions. The European Union has phased out oxybenzone in its sunscreens, and Hawaii and some Pacific nations have banned its use because it is dangerous to coral and marine ecosystems.
As a more than thirty year survivor of Stage IV Melanoma cancer, I have done a lot of research into the topic of sun exposure, sunscreen, and their relationship to cancer, and I believe the sunscreen chemicals and lack of UVB rays getting to my skin did more to cause my melanoma than sun exposure ever did. Back when I was in my twenties, I had a basal cell skin cancer removed from the top of my head. The dermatologist told me to wear sunscreen 24/7 and stay out of the sun. I followed his advice religiously, putting sunscreen on as soon as I woke up and treating the sun like it was my kryptonite, avoiding it at all costs. I found myself with a diagnosis of melanoma ten years later.
Melanoma is a systemic cancer that spreads through your whole body and shows up on the skin – often in places that aren’t exposed to the sun. Think about it –when you go for a skin exam, the areas they are careful to check include behind the ears, on your scalp, and even in the groin area. After I was diagnosed, I did my research and learned the hard way that the chemicals in the sunscreen I slathered on were harmful, and I actually needed the vitamin D from the sun exposure I was so diligently avoiding.
I walked away from sunscreen and started enjoying the outdoors again – in the sun – and I haven’t had melanoma cancer for more than 30 years now. I am living proof you can heal naturally from terminal melanoma cancer, and I share my story in my new book, I Used to Have Cancer. If you or a loved one are looking for hope and healing from cancer, I encourage you to pick up a copy today.
Most sunscreens on the market today are a chemical soup of ingredients that do more harm than good. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and reputable scientists have written extensively about the dangerous and cancer-causing effects of many of the chemicals found in sunscreens – not just the 4 that the FDA is calling for studies on. So what do you do when you know you’ll be spending all day on the lake, at the beach, or at the ball field and your skin needs protection from sunburn?
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