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Toxic sunscreens - more harm than protection

If you're old enough to remember tanning in the sun with baby oil and iodine, then you know it was 33 summers ago when the SPF (Sun Protection Factors) label first appeared on sun tanning products, and that it's also been 33 years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated the ingredients manufacturers can use in their products.

If you can remember PABA and "PABA Free" sunscreen products (aminobenzoic acid, also known as para-aminobenzoic acid or PABA) then you're plenty smart enough and old enough to realize that the FDA failed to solve the problem with sunscreens when they had the chance. PABA was an additive once used to lessen the danger of sunburn and reduce the incidence of melanoma. Instead, when large populations of users applied PABA to their skin they began having allergic reactions and large populations of users started making visits to the Emergency room.

The latest growing controversy is about the effectiveness of SPF numbers rising above 50 and the long term toxic and hormonal effects of specific chemical ingredients used in more than 80% of sun block products in the USA. The two most troubling ingredients in 80% of all USA products are Vitamin A, and oxybenzone.

Vitamin A, in the form of retinyl palmitate, has been a long time ingredient of skin lotions and night creams because it' anti-oxidant qualities that slows down skin aging. The trouble is, when Vitamin A is applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight an FDA studies shows it will speed the growth and development of skin tumors. More troubling is that Vitamin A only spurs cancer when it’s combined with sunlight in a process know as “photocarcinogenic.” Vitamin A is added to 41 percent of all sunscreens in the USA.

Oxybenzone is the most common active ingredient in USA sunscreen. You can find it in 96% of all American's urine and that's just one of the reasons why oxybenzone has been a long time concern of medical researchers. Other documented facts about oxybenzone are it penetrates the skin and is associated with hormone disruption; reproductive effects, altered organ weights in chronic feeding studies, and it produces a high rates of photo-allergy allergic reactions.

Check the Environmental Working Group website to see if you use safe, unsafe, or toxic sunscreen

Taking care of the largest organ in our body is no small deal when it comes to blocking the harmful rays of the sun. According to the American Cancer Society; Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers as it accounts for nearly 50% of all cancers in the USA. Most non-melanoma skin cancers develop on sun-exposed areas of the body, like the face, ear, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands. When it is detected in its early stages Melanoma is almost always curable, however melanoma it is far more dangerous than other skin cancers and causes most skin cancer deaths.

The best ways to lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer are to avoid intense sunlight for long periods of time and to practice sun safety.
- Avoid the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM
- Seek shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are strongest
- Teach the shadow rule to children: if your shadow is shorter than you, then hide from the sun
- Slip on a shirt: Cover up with protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible
- Slop on sunscreen, lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher
- Apply generous amounts of sunscreen (about a palmful)
- Reapply sunscreen after swimming, toweling dry, or perspiring
- Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days
- Use a hat with a wide-brim hat to shade your face, ears, and neck
- A baseball cap does not protect your ears and neck from the sun
- Use sunglasses: Wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption
- Protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds
- Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous

Since we started tanning with baby oil and iodine we've learned that everything will deteriorate faster when it's unprotected and exposed to the sun's ultra violet rays; our deck, the paint on our car, and our skin. With no mandatory requirements directing sunscreen manufacturers what they can and can’t put into their products, it is only consumer knowledge that will currently help.

Ideally, your sunscreen should prevent more damage then it causes. It should block the sun's ultra violet rays that cause sunburn, it shouldn't breakdown into independent toxic chemicals when it's exposed to the sun and it shouldn't be absorbed by the largest organ in our body. The ideal sunscreen has not been invented, but your selection can be made wisely.Check the Environmental Working Group website to see if you use safe, unsafe, or toxic sunscreen

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Comment by Rebecca Clemmer on June 25, 2010 at 7:05pm
Well, the FDA is in fact tasked with watching out for this, I'm pretty sure. I missed the reference to 'not amending their regulation in 32 yrs' and would have to look into that, seems terribly vague and general in the context I have. I'm not in the pharma industry and so am not as familiar with their regs. I was looking for some FDA info, but as I said ran out of time.
Comment by Howard McCoy on June 25, 2010 at 10:41am
I can't doubt what you're saying but (yes a but) I imagined there was some governmental bureau, like the FDA who was watching out for my best interests, not an industry group, but an independent board of regulators. When I read that the FDA hadn't amended their regulation in 32 yrs my interest was peaked. I also don't doubt that some of the studies were referenced to a small number of subjects, but again, only a small number of consumer oriented groups are the ones raising the red flags.

When I went to the Ridley CVS last evening, every sun product I saw from 50-150 (yes 150SPF) uses oxybenzone in their active ingredients. On the lower shelf, where the 2, 4, & 8 SPF tanning products dwell, there's no oxybenzone.
I do hear you about "natural"; it doesn't mean safe. Many of nature's product are lethal or harmful if absorbed or ingested. What I'm offering is there's no forward looking scientific study about what really happens to nano-sized particles in the human body.
The trouble I'm personally seeing is that Zinc and Titanium are being nano-sized to make SPF's over 30-50. They been effectively used for years in lower SPF products and the minerals are too large to be absorbed. Now they're being nano-sized in absolute massive quantities that consumers use freely and studies haven't been conducted to learn what happens to when humans slap on handfuls of nanoparticles on their skin that's absorbed into their body.
I've taken Sharon A's suggestion and Debbie and I are usinf "Burt's Bee's" chemical free 30SPF. It smells OK, goes on thick, and we haven't been burned - who knows, maybe it's making us toxic with helianthus annuus.
Also Greg, at the CVS, I could only locate 1 product containing picaridin - I bought it and I'll see if it works.
Comment by Rebecca Clemmer on June 24, 2010 at 2:16pm
I've been trying to formulate an answer to this, but don't have the time to do the research necessary. I work in the chemical industry (thought not with this chemical), and am often distressed by the instant reactions of the public to 'bad press' such as this. Mind you: I don't know much about oxybenzine and cannot speak to it. But when the only information you get is from the EWG, you do not have a well-rounded bunch of information.

Couple of things: absorption into the system does not automatically mean DANGER POISON. Lots of things are absorbed into the skin. The fact that it is FOUND does not automatically mean it is a problem. The fact that the skin reacts to it does not mean it is a danger except because of that person's sensitivity.
Another thing: beware the word natural. Natural does not equal safe, as anyone who has had a reaction to the natural toxin of poison ivy can attest. There are probably a fair number of people who have suffered skin reactions to citronella or the pyrethroids. And citronella has likely been less thoroughly studied than oxybenzine.
And one more thing: beware the 'study' with only a few participants. I looked at one of the websites, which lists many studies - I'd want to take a look at them to see how many people participated, and whether the results were statistically significant.

My final word is this: it's easy to REACT to something when it seems to you that it must be true. Take the time to learn more, and to hear different sides of the story/research. You will be a more informed person, and annoy the heck out of other people like I do my mother.
Comment by RP resident on June 24, 2010 at 12:37pm
I passed this on to everyone I know, thanks!!!!
Comment by RidleyParkOnline on June 23, 2010 at 9:17pm
Sad to say that most folks don't care, but I'm hoping to reach the folks like me and you and all of the other Parkers who thought the stuff we're slathering on our bod's is somehow good for us. I've always been a Coppertone man and this year Debbie and I bought the obligatory individual bottles of 30,50,70 and the new "100 SPF" sunscreens. Come to find out, everyone of my Coppertone sunscreens is listed as "avoid" list and none we on the "use with caution" list - so it freaked me out that I now have at least a cotillion nanosize zinc particles floating, or stuck somewhere inside my body. Plus, my good buddy's a fisherman who can fish anymore in the daylight because he developed lip cancer.

As for the deet thing, the latest literature from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or picaridin typically provide longer-lasting protection than other products. Picaridin has long been used to repel mosquitoes in other parts of the world and is available in the U.S. under the Cutter Advanced brand name. Oil of lemon eucalyptus from eucalyptus leaves is available in several forms, from Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, OFF! Botanicals, and Fight Bite Plant-Based Insect Repellent.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus gives longer protection than other plant-based repellents. Permethrin is another long-lasting repellent that is intended for application to clothing and gear, but not directly to skin.

According to the nonprofit National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides, some other good choices, include products containing geraniol (MosquitoGuard or Bite Stop), citronella (Natrapel), herbal extracts (Beat It Bug Buster) or essential oils (All Terrain).

There's also chemical free alternatives from Herbal Armor, Buzz Away and Green Ban, each containing citronella and peppermint and essential oils (cedar wood, lemongrass, etc.). PANNA offers Bite Blocker, from soybeans and coconut oils and it's safe to use on children.

Glad you asked, at least the natural foods aisle is expanding
Comment by Greg Fox on June 22, 2010 at 8:22pm
Agreed. But do you think most people will care? Now....what about DEET that is added to mosquito repellant? When is someone going to blow that whistle? Eucalyptus and lemon oil works just as well, but not as long. And what about all the crap found in name-brand milk? Our kids' pediatrician said mammals no longer need milk after weening. But the conglomerate dairy industry has billboard size posters in almost every school in America featuring some famous personality with a milk mustache. The bottom line is still the bottom line and after the initial "OMG" most people go right on using the same old poisons. Read your labels and educate yourself. Our own Acme has a large isle dedicated to organic food items and stocks organic milk and creamers. Sure, it's all more expensive, but it is a choice we must all make. Peace.

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