The Truth About Sunscreen


by Kurt Greenberg, D.C.

apply-sunscreenWith skin cancers of all kinds increasing at an alarming rate and the deadliest form malignant melanoma threatening to surpass all other malignancies as the number one cancer in America within twenty years, it is imperative we investigate all treatment strategies, prevention and most important the causes without delay.

Conventional thinking to protect your self against skin cancer is to cover up and apply sunscreen. The use of sunscreens became popularized in the 1960s and was touted as our best protection against the damaging rays of the sun. With a strong and unrelenting advertising campaign, sunscreens were soon incorporated into American culture (and soon thereafter around the world). Dermatologists soon began to endorse their use and the new era of skin cancer protection via sunscreens was heralded in.

Oddly enough, since their introduction, skin cancer rates began to climb and not fall. For example, melanoma rates doubled from 6 to 13 per 100,000 people since 1973. Today, skin cancer diagnoses surpass all other cancer, with over 1.3 million new cases each year, with new melanoma diagnoses to be close to 48,000 in 2002, according to the American Cancer Society.

Proponents of sunscreen believe that many stay in the sun too long without reapplying, thus increasing their risks of getting skin cancer; while others point out that many people fail to apply the sunscreen in "hidden" areas such as behind the ears, thus increasing skin cancer risk with increased exposure. Then there are those who state that sunscreen has never been proven to prevent skin cancer and point to the lack of any controlled studies. There is also the school of thought that states a blocking agent can save the skin from sun damage and possibly skin cancer, and it is not sunscreen per se but what is in the sunscreen. It is that question that is the most disturbing.

With the exception of a very few, sunscreens are a combination of chemicals designed to protect the skin from UVB rays. SPF or sun protection factor is the ratio of the amount of UV it takes to produce redness or erythema on sunscreen applied skin. It is then compared to unprotected skin for 24 hours to see how much UV radiation it takes to have a similar effect. So if it takes 10 minutes for your skin to redden a bit, an SPF of, let's say 8, should allow you to stay in the sun eight times longer or eighty minutes before you start to redden. Chemical sunscreens protect against UVB. SPF does not apply for UVA unless the sunscreen says it contains avobenzone or Parsol 1789 for example. Yet it is UVA most researchers believe causes the most harm to the skin.

It is UVA light that penetrates the skin the deepest and is responsible for most tanning. UVB causes sunburn and too much can cause eye damage as well. Yet UVB is needed for Vitamin D synthesis and for calcium absorption. Chemical sunscreens absorb light and do not reflect light. Some researchers think they release these rays in a lower energy state, which in turn produces a lot of free radical activity. There is 100 times more UVA than UVB. UVA can reach the dermis where collagen is manufactured. UVA's can cause lots of free radical damage to the skin. There are two wavelengths known as UVAI and UVAII. Chemical sunscreens block a small portion of UVAI but have no effect on UVAII. Many scientists believe that too much UVA is immunosuppressive. For decades now, people worldwide who believed they were getting full protection from the sun's rays were unaware they were not protected (note: there is slight absorption of UVA by chemical sunscreens) from harmful exposure to excessive amounts of UVA.

Sunscreen alone is not the best protection against skin cancer, particularly chemical sunscreens. Studies are lacking proving they prevent basal cell cancers and melanoma. Yet most public health officials and dermatologists persist in insisting that sunscreen use or abstinence from the sun is our best protection. Today skin cancer rates climb to record high levels as sunscreen sales go through the roof. While some point to the sunbathing habits and a 20-year lag time between diagnosis, sunbathing too was popular in the 1920s and 30's. It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s particularly, when skin cancer rates of all kinds began to spiral upward.

Nearly two decades ago researchers made a curious discovery. Though sun exposure was branded the culprit in the ever increasing rise in melanoma they observed that melanoma was occurring in areas where sunscreen is used the most and also found that melanoma rates are highest among those that avoid the sun and work in indoor urban environments. In August 1982 an article was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, "The Lancet," entitled "Malignant Melanoma and Exposure to Fluorescent Lighting at Work." The authors of this study were the first to examine the possible relationship between indoor fluorescent lights and the ever rising rate of melanoma. Taking into account such factors as hair color, skin type and the history of sun exposure it was found that working under fluorescent lights had doubled the risk of melanoma in the subjects of the research.

As far back as 1982 these researchers pointed out that evidence that the sun was the causative factor in the development of melanoma was weak and inconclusive. In fact, in Australia and in England it was people that worked indoors that were getting more melanoma than those that worked outdoors. The amount of UVB and UVA emitted from these lights, the distance from the lights, how the light was encased, plus the wavelength of the fluorescent lights to the sun were compared. In addition, the use of oral contraceptives by women, were taken into account. Their findings revealed that most of the melanomas occurred on areas of the body exposed to light such as the trunk and limbs (mostly the trunk in both males and females). They surmised that tanned skin from regular exposure to the sun actually protects the skin and that people who received more sunlight were less vulnerable to the deleterious effects of fluorescent lights. They also addressed the issue that office workers were apt to spend more time in the sun or sun bathe thus explaining the higher rate of melanoma they incur but they found no evidence to support this claim.

In another study, Russian researchers found women working under fluorescent lights to be at a greater risk of melanoma and in 1990 the U.S. Navy did a study and found the highest rates of melanoma in those that worked indoors.

Today many advocate the use of "alternative lights," such as full spectrum lighting, or shielding fluorescent lights with lead tape. Of course this debate is not without controversy as industry spokespeople vehemently dispute these assertions and insist fluorescent lighting is safe and poses no threat of carcinogenesis.

Natural sunlight is necessary for good health. Without it our planet would cease to exist. Time in the sun is a question of balance. Daily moderate exposure enables the body to produce Vitamin D and synthesize melanin (our body's natural sunscreen). Overexposure to the sun causes photo-damage to the skin, actinic keratoses, a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma. It is also immunosuppressive and accelerates skin aging. Underexposure is dangerous as well, as one becomes "light deficient." Light deficiency induces Vitamin D deficiency, thus accelerating melanoma growth risks.

Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh is a proponent of regular moderate sun exposure, which he believes can prevent a many as 30,000 cancer deaths in the United States yearly. A study published in CANCER (March 2002: 94:1867-75) bolsters his thesis. Rates of thirteen types of cancer were found to be higher in New England where people may not be synthesizing Vitamin D at all due to lack of sunlight in the wintertime. Deaths from cancers of the rectum, stomach, uterus, bladder and others were nearly double of that of people in the southwest. Dietary patterns were compared and little difference was noted. Most sunscreens are designed to block UVB rays. Vitamin D is synthesized from UVB. In light of this report and others, along with epidemiological studies linking lack of sun exposure to sub-optimal Vitamin D levels, it may be time to reevaluate our notions of sun exposure and its effect on our health.

This article was excerpted from an excellent book called "The Skin Cancer Breakthrough Program" by Kurt Greenberg. To order this book and a special cream he developed to reverse and prevent damage from the sun visit: Sedna Health Products. Also visit Kurt Greenberg's new site to reach exceptional articles and hear interesting interviews on other health issues.

Where do you find mineral-based sunscreens? Check out your local health food store. Other sources are by Lavera Natural Cosmetics, ,

Carcinogenic Sunscreen: Chemical Research in Toxicology, January 1999: HYPERLINK

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