Another reason to avoid sunscreens

One of my last posts pointed to the hazards associated with the use of sunscreens, including some propensity to increased skin cancer risk. Some people have commented that chemicals found in sunscreens might have a direct toxic and cancer-inducing effect in the body. I don’t disagree with this idea at all – it’s certainly plausible.

I came across this report today, which is about a study which assessed the association between the ‘benzophenone-type’ sunscreen ingredients and ‘endometriosis’. This condition is characterised by the finding of womb lining tissue (endometrium) outside the womb such as in the pelvis or fallopian tubes. It can be a painful condition, and can contribute to infertility.

Endometriosis is believed to be driven by the hormone oestrogen. Now, while benzophenone-type chemicals are helpful in terms of preventing sunburn, they also mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body. In this study, it was found that women with the highest levels of one particular benzophenone-type chemical were at 65 per cent increased risk of endometriosis compared to those with the lowest levels.

This sort of ‘epidemiological’ study does not prove that these chemicals cause endometriosis, but it might cause us to pause and think about the potential for chemicals in suncreens (and other skincare products) to cause harm. Of some concern here, is that oestrogen does not just drive endometriosis, but certain cancers too, including breast cancer.

15 Responses to Another reason to avoid sunscreens

  1. Jo 11 May 2012 at 12:11 pm #


    About 20 years ago I met a young scientist who had done PhD work on sunscreens and their results suggested that one of the ingredients (maybe PABA?) was linked to cancer. He swore never to use sunscreens again – this was in South Africa. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more since then, but maybe this type of work doesn’t get funded.

  2. Feona 11 May 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    ‘Endometriosis can be a painful condition’ has got to be the understatement of the year, John! I’m long past those days, but I can certainly remember the pain almost every month and having it dismissed as something you had to live with and to just relax. The problem for many women nowadays is to find a face cream that doesn’t have high levels of sunscreen in it. Maybe the cosmetics industry should stop including sunscreen altogether, unless it’s in a product specifically for preventing sunburn?

  3. tal 11 May 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I went looking for more information on benzophenone-3 and found the following article:

  4. conrack 11 May 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Eetinyl palmitate, a synthetic form of vitamin A used in many sunscreens until just recently has been found to SPEED the growth of tumors when exposed to sunlight.

    “A report published by the National Toxicology Program found that retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A & a key ingredient in many sunscreens, can actually supercharge skin tumors. On its own, it’s mostly harmless. But once it’s exposed to ultraviolet light — say, I don’t know, FROM THE SUN — it breaks down into free radicals that can damage the skin and cripple your chromosomes.

    This stuff is basically Miracle-Gro for tumors, in animal tests researchers found that skin creams with retinyl palmitate caused more skin lesions and faster-growing tumors.

    The Environmental Working Group says retinyl palmitate is in 41 percent of sunscreens, including well-known products from Coppertone, Banana Boat, Panama Jack, Hawaiian Tropic, and Neutrogena, & more than 200 sunscreens sold in the last year contained retinyl palmitate.

    Some companies are already rushing vitamin A-free versions to the market, but you can skip those too because retinyl palmitate isn’t the only hazard hidden in sunscreen, they’re just oozing with known carcinogens, hormone-disrupting chemicals and poorly understood nano-particles.”

  5. Pippa 12 May 2012 at 2:03 am #

    One of the safest brands of skincare I’ve found is called 100% Pure. Made in USA but available here. Nothing as far as I can see in their products to worry about. I’ve been using them for a long time now and am incredibly impressed. My skin has never looked better, although following Dr Briffa’s primal eating plan with all these good fats I am sure is helping with my glowing skin!
    I haven’t used sunscreen for years because of all I’ve read over decades about the potentially harmful chemicals in them. Ultrasun is full of parabens for instance & paraffin.
    N.B I am nothing to do with 100% Pure – just pleased to have found them as it is ridiculously hard to find cosmetics & skin products which don’t contain dodgy chemicals. Another excellent brand is called PUR, based in Wales. All handmade by a small, dedicated company.
    No one is doing wide-reaching research on potentially harmful chemicals in cosmetics and skincare as there is no money in it (just the opposite) All the funds for cancer research are going on how to cure it once you’ve got it, not how to prevent it in the first place.

  6. dave chandler 12 May 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I wonder if this could also be a factor in male infertility.We are bombarded with Oestrogen in so many products.

  7. PeggyC 13 May 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    My sunscreen and skin care of preference is pure coconut oil. I use it before I go out in the sun, after I come in and after showering, swimming, etc. I use nothing else and haven’t for many years. And I live in Southern California, so am exposed to the sun a lot. And of course, I eat no soya or corn oil–just mostly animal fat and coconut, olive and palm oils. I’ve noticed that dark spots that I used to have have disappeared and I’m told I look a lot younger than my 65 years, despite a lot of time in the sun. Anecdotal and not proof of anything, but…

  8. Jane Muscat 13 May 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    Benzophenone-3 or Oxybenzone. Sodium Benzoate.these are 3 chemicals which unfortunately are used by many NATURAL Cosmetic companies.about 15 yrs ago I discovered that these chemicals cause me severe utching,burning sensation ,imagine when I used them and went sunbathing ,it was a week of burning not even the dermatologist could find the reason.I did all the allergy tests and resulted negative .My daughter who was studying medicine had these chemicals listed in her dermatology books as causing severe allergies and now i read all the ingredients before applying anything because my face would go as red as a lobster with severe itching BE CAEFUL

  9. Edwardia 14 May 2012 at 12:32 am #

    The answer is not to go out in the sun without a hat and stuff to cover up, I guess. I always wear sunglasses and a hat and make sure I have sufficient clothes available to cover up. NEVER sunbathe and if I sit in my garden I sit in dappled shade. I get more and more concerned about the sheer number of chemicals we get exposed to every day.

  10. Valda Redfern 14 May 2012 at 12:34 am #

    I have always loathed most sunscreens, despite being very fair skinned and having grown up in Africa, and for long before I heard of vitamin D synthesis. The reason I so dislike them is the smell – to me, inimical, rather like insecticide – and the fact that they make my eyes water. The only kind I tolerate are those based on zinc or titanium oxide.

  11. cancerclasses 14 May 2012 at 2:14 am #

    @dave & all: Yup, besides many other things that influence fertility even obesity can cause infertility in males since fat as living tissue is very estrogenic by it’s self.

    Brian Peskin likes to say that soy is “food for a pig,” as in not fit for humans, but soy has long been known to cause infertility even in pigs when they’re fed soy protein animal feeds which interferes with the animal’s breeding cycles & the farmer’s breeding programs. Soy disrupts fertility because it’s known to disrupt the entire endocrine system which includes fertility, immunity & hormone production & glands including the adrenals & thyroid. Soy is nothing to mess with or have in your diet & body.

    And that’s just soy, along with soy the number one hormone system disruptor is TRANS FATS as found in industrially processed & refined liquid vegetable oils like corn, SOY, canola, sunflower, safflower, even grape seed & ANY oils that have been subjected to high temperature or hexane & other chemical extraction processes, and ALL manufactured “foods” that include those oils. The average person eating a SAD diet ingests far more trans fat veg oils by direct use for cooking and in processed foods than they realize, but the increasing inclusion of soy in all it’s forms in the very same processed oils & foods has to make soy the number 2 cause of infertility & hormone dysfunction.

    In her now 15 year old article ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS, LORENZO’S OIL AND BEYOND, lipid researcher Patricia Kane PhD. says:

    “In our struggle to direct the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and nervous systems we have neglected to use the very substrate that is basic to all biochemical interactions — fatty acids. Instead we have shunned lipids, removed them from our diets, blamed them for the ills of society-obesity, cancer, heart disease, degenerative illness-when in fact they are the critical substrates to the immune (cytokines, prostaglandins), endocrine (hormones, neurohormones) neuronal (myelin) components we attempt to manipulate. The administration of hormones, for example, often fails when an individual exibits very low serum cholesterol which is the base substrate for the cascade of regulatory hormones. Thus when an individual is loaded with a hormone they are often unable to properly utilize the hormone due to a deficiency of substrate (fatty acids, coenzymes). Recently the addition of DHEA has been suggested but this often further complicates the patient’s chemistry rather than corrects the hormonal imbalance because the basic raw materials are missing and the ingestion of trans fats literally blocks fatty acid metabolism and hormonal production.”

  12. A.GRAY 14 May 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    I cannot find the manufacturer of sunscreen 100% pure or PUR as refered to by Pippa. Can he/she provide the missing info please.

  13. Jenny 15 May 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Sadly almost all I see talking about how they not used sunscreen for xx amounts of years have nowhere near the kind of complexion i have. For me it simply doesn’t help to “stay in shadow during the peak hours” – sure, in the shade and off-peak hours i don’t burn in 10 minutes but i still burn. And this in the rather weak nordic sunlight.
    I’m incredibly pale with red hair and freckles and various other “skin-spots”, what should I do? Wearing thick protective clothing, widebrimmed hats and gloves 100% of the time outside or not go out at all in daytime in summer doesn’t feel like a good solution.
    Not all who wear sunscreen to prolong the time they can stay in sun without burning does this to spend a day at the beach or by the pool. Some of us need it to be able to be outdoors, or just go for a walk at daytime in summer.

  14. Deb 18 May 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Do you feel that all sunscreens are created equal? What about more “natural” preparations found in health food stores? I do feel that my fair-skinned family needs something for when we leave cool Britannia for sunnier climes.

  15. Helen 9 August 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    If you have to use sunscreen (as a very fair skinned person, I’m afraid sometimes I do) then there are more natural choices such as Green People, Dr Hauschka etc. It’s also worth looking at the Environmental Working Group’s annual report of sunscreens although this is a US organisation and doesn’t always list UK products.

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