organic sunscreens

Do Sunscreens Cause Cancer? Some Safe Alternatives to Consider

Skin cancers have become more prevalent. From a 1 in 500 chance in 1935, we now face cancer rates of 1 in 55. There are many reasons for this; longer life expectancy, holes in the ozone layer and the increased popularity of tanning. Now some studies say that the sunscreens we use are actually contributing to cancer. Study results are conflicting, but they do agree that some sunscreens contain harmful chemicals that contribute to bad skin health.

Do sunscreens cause cancer?

Because of the wide range of sunscreens and sunscreen ingredients, studies have come back with paradoxical results about the efficacy of sunscreens in reducing cancer risks. Studies do agree that:

  • Some sunscreens only protect against UVB radiation and not the far more dangerous UVA spectrum which leads to increased incidence of cancer.
  • Many sunscreens contain carcinogenic ingredients including oxybenzone, benzophenone, octyl methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, diisopropyl adipate, retinoic acid, and retinyl palmitate.
  • People spend more time in the sun when they think they are protected. If their sunscreen doesn’t offer UVB protection, they are at greater risk of skin cancers.
  • Wearing sunscreens reduce the production of melanin, the skin’s natural defense against the sun.
  • Sunscreen chemicals can generate free radicals which penetrate the skin.
  • Micronized titanium and zinc oxide nanoparticles can cause pathogenic cytotoxicity and carcinogenicity.
  • Some ingredients have also been shown to damage DNA when exposed to sunshine.

Despite these considerations, scientists agree that those who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle are still better off with sunscreen than without. Of course some sunscreens are better than others and if you are wondering where yours falls on the spectrum, check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide to toxicity in sunscreens here.

Natural green living alternatives to sunscreen

There are many natural products which are free from carcinogens available on the market, but if you wish to steer clear of chemicals altogether, there are some things you can do to keep healthy and prevent cancer.

Wear clothing: Limit your exposure to the sun to twenty minute increments, then put on some clothing—white is best as it reflects light and will keep you cool. Always wear a hat! A wide-brimmed option will keep sun from your neck and chest.

Eat well: Anti-oxidants and Omega-3 fatty oils help to protect your skin and prevent damage. Astaxanthin is an antioxidant that protects against UV exposure and DNA damage that can be found in salmon.

You can also apply natural oils to your skin to protect yourself and moisturize your skin too. Ensure that you reapply them every one to two hours.

  • Red Raspberry Seed Oil: This super natural sunscreen averages between 28-50 SPF and blocks UVB rays.
  • Carrot Seed Oil:  Has a 38-40 SPF and has some excellent antioxidant properties too.
  • Wheat Germ Oil:  Has an SPF of 20.
  • Sesame Oil: blocks about 30% of sunlight.
  • Coconut Oil: blocks about 20% of the sun’s rays.
  • Aloe Vera: blocks about 20% and can be used after exposure to sooth dry or sunburned skin.

Make your own sunscreen

Yes you can! When you make your own, you know that it is free of carcinogens and will provide a healthy alternative for you and your family.

What you need:

  • ½ cup organic olive oil
  • ¼ coconut oil (provides an SPF of 4)
  • 2 Tbsp. Zinc Oxide (this can’t be absorbed into the skin and will provide an SPF of 20. Be careful not to inhale the powder).
  • 1 tsp. vitamin E oil
  • 1 Tbsp. beeswax (optional to make it waterproof)

Place all ingredients except zinc oxide in a glass jar. Pour a couple of inches of water into a pot on medium heat. Stand the jar in the pot and heat gently until all ingredients are combined, taking care to keep water out of the jar. Once ingredients are melted and combined, remove the jar from the heat and, while it cools, mix in zinc oxide. Leave to cool. Apply it liberally as you would any other sunscreen.

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Nikki is an author and writer specializing in green living ideas and tips, adventure travel, upcycling, and all things eco-friendly. She's traveled the globe, swum with sharks and been bitten by a lion (fact). She lives in a tiny town with a fat cat and a very bad dog.

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