Sunscreen is a vital component of skin protection in the prevention of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, physicians diagnose more Americans with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. The Skin Cancer Foundation goes on to report that 20% of Americans will contract skin cancer by the time they reach their seventies. Studies show that sunscreen use can decrease the risk of skin cancer by 50% or more. However, additional studies suggest that topical sunscreens may be absorbed into the bloodstream, prompting questions about sunscreen safety. Read on for facts about sunscreen, its benefits, and its possible risks.
9. Sunscreen History
The ancient Egyptians prized lighter skin tones over the darker hues of sun-darkened skin. Therefore, they would use natural ingredients such as rice bran to block the rays of the sun. Contemporary forms of sunscreen weren’t invented until the mid-1900s. It was in 1978 that the United States FDA determined that sunscreens should be regulated to make sure they were safe and provided skin protection. The 1980s brought the realization that skin cancer is triggered by both harmful UVB and UVA rays from the sun. In the 1990s, the FDA allowed products containing avobenzone to be marketed as protection against UVA rays.
8. Mineral Sunblock Agents
Sunblocks composed of minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide form a physical barrier on the skin that prevents harmful rays from penetrating. While these substances are safe, natural, and effective, they form a conspicuous and thick white paste. Many individuals would prefer to spend time in the sun without sporting a glaring white substance on their face or body. Furthermore, testing by Consumer Reports suggests that “all natural” sunblocks containing only mineral ingredients are not as consistently effective as chemical-based sunscreen products.
7. Chemical Sunscreens
Sunscreens that contain chemicals such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, octocrylene, octinoxate, and homosalate work differently than mineral-based sunblocks. According to Piedmont Healthcare, these substances prevent sunburn by absorbing harmful UV rays. Next, these chemicals transform the UV rays into heat, which the body discharges back into the environment. Sunscreens are designed to prevent diseases, including sunburn and skin cancer. Therefore, the FDA regulates them to ensure that they perform their intended functions without causing harm to those who use them.
6. Absorption of Chemicals
Recently, a study by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research found that the chemical components of common sunscreen products were absorbed into the bloodstream of individuals who use them. The results of this study have prompted the FDA to recommend further studies to determine whether blood levels of these chemicals may cause harm to the consumers using them. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, these studies will help uncover more information about the levels of sunscreen chemicals absorbed by the skin. These studies will also help determine whether the absorption of these chemicals has a negative effect on health.
5. Contact Allergies
Some individuals may experience an allergic rash when using sunscreens. In these individuals, the chemicals in the sunscreen react with the sun’s rays to cause an allergic reaction known as photocontact dermatitis. This condition may appear as red, itchy, raised bumps on the skin. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, oxybenzone is an active ingredient frequently used in sunscreen. Oxybenzone is also one of the common causes of photocontact dermatitis. Individuals who experience this reaction may find that sunblocks containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide will provide UV protection without triggering an allergic reaction.
4. Coral Bleaching
While sunscreens are beneficial in protecting humans from sunburn and skin cancer, they may cause damage to other ecosystems. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the minerals and chemicals of sunscreen can damage marine life and the coral reef. The NOAA warns that sunscreen chemicals have damaging effects on sea urchins, fish, mussels, and dolphins. These chemicals also may destroy green algae and can bleach, deform, and kill coral. To protect marine life, the NOAA suggests using marine-safe sunscreens and protecting your skin with UV-protective clothing and by seeking shade.
3. Dangers Due to Sun Exposure
Overexposure to the rays of the sun can lead to a painful sunburn. As the skin burns, it turns red, becomes hot to the touch, and feels tight or dry. The pain of a sunburn may be followed by peeling as the damaged skin sloughs off. Repeated sunburns can cause premature aging of the skin. The skin may appear wrinkled, leathery, and dry. A more serious consequence of frequent sunburn is the increased risk of skin cancer. The Mayo Clinic lists precancerous skin lesions, skin cancer, and eye damage as complications caused by frequent exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
2. Recommendations for Sunscreen Use
The chemicals in sunscreen may be absorbed into your bloodstream. However, it currently appears that the benefits of sunscreen use outweigh the risks. When purchasing sunscreen, choose a product with an SPF of 30 or higher. Seek out a sunscreen that will provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Additionally, water-resistant formulations will provide greater protection if you are swimming or likely to become wet. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming. Cover all areas of skin that are exposed to the sun, including your scalp, neck, ears, and the tops of your feet.
1. Additional Sun Protection
In addition to sunscreen, there are other measures you can take to protect your skin. Seeking shade is one way to avoid sunburn. Additionally, the American Cancer Society uses the slogan “Slip! Slop! Slap! And Wrap!” as a reminder of ways you can protect your skin from the sun. To protect yourself, slip on a shirt as a barrier against the sun. Next, slop some sunscreen on any exposed skin. Thirdly, slap on a hat to protect your scalp, neck, and face. Finally, wrap on a pair of UV-protective sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them.