Sunscreens’ Health and Environmental Hazards | 05Abr2012 21:14:39
The chemicals in sunscreens not only fail to provide effective protection against all the sun’s rays, they also have toxic effects on humans, waterways and aquatic life. Our best advice is to eliminate sunscreens and adopt a diet rich in antioxidants.
From Coral Reefs to Collagen
In the summer of 2010, when I was in Maui, Hawaii, the local media were discussing that the coral reefs were dying due to global warming. However, when I realised that the Hawaiian waters felt colder than they had in the 40 years that I had been swimming in them, being a medical researcher I decided to investigate what else may be killing the coral.
I very quickly found an article published in 2008 in Environmental Health Perspectives (116:441-447) which clearly demonstrated that sunscreen chemicals kill coral. When my search led me to numerous articles which revealed that these chemicals are potent hormones capable of having severe impacts on all species of life as well as on human foetal development, I knew that I had to write a book to warn the public and that there could only be one name for it that would be appropriate: Sunscreens – Biohazard: Treat as Hazardous Waste. This newly published book documents the vast amount of evidence that identifies the dire consequences arising from these chemicals entering the ecosystems of the planet as well as the human body. It highlights that there is an urgent need to halt the use of sunscreen chemicals today, to bring to an end the harm they are creating every day that they are in use.
From the headlines in every media, we are given this message: "Use sunscreens before going outdoors. Make sure to slather it on your children to protect them from skin cancers and also to prevent photo-ageing of the skin." This has been repeated so many times that we believe it to be the truth and do not think to question the premise. However, there is now plenty of evidence that sunscreens not only increase the risk of skin cancers, including melanomas, but also leave the skin exposed to a higher percentage of the solar rays that actually break down collagen and elastin, resulting in greater photo-ageing of the skin than without sunscreen use.
Melanoma and Skin Cancer Increase with Sunscreen Use
From the 1960s to the present time, there has been a steady rise in the incidence of melanoma in all parts of the world.(1) A 2009 study published in Clinics in Dermatology reveals that the incidence rate for melanoma has been rising in white populations worldwide over the last four decades.(2) According to the World Health Organization, the annual incidence rates for melanoma in Norway and Sweden have more than tripled over the last 45 years.3 Australia and New Zealand have the highest incidence rates at 40–60 per 100,000. Central Europe increased from 3–4 per 100,000 in the 1970s to 10–15 per 100,000 by 2000. These trends indicate that there will be a doubling of the incidence over the next 20 years.(4) In fact, the statistics are so overwhelming that researchers in a 2008 article, published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, stated: "...it is probably safe to suggest that predominantly UVB absorbing sunscreens do not prevent melanoma development in humans."(5)
Australia has the highest incidence rate of skin cancer in the world, with over 6,000 melanomas and close to 300,000 new cases of skin cancers diagnosed each year. Most of these cases are considered to be the result of fair-skinned people living in the strong solar radiation that shines on their continent.(6)
However, Australia is not the only place in the world with increases in skin cancers, and both squamous cell and basal cell skin cancer rates have been steadily increasing over the last few decades. Switzerland, despite a nationwide prevention campaign over the last 20 years, has a skin cancer incidence rate among the highest in Europe.(7) Even in Croatia, where more than 70% of the population say they use sunscreens, the annual incidence of melanoma has increased 300% over the last 40 years.(8) A 2010 article, written to promote the use of protective clothing to address this growing problem, stated: "Skin cancer
incidence in Croatia is steadily increasing in spite of public and governmental [measures]. It is clear that [it] will soon become a major public health problem."9
The statistics do prove the increase in skin cancers of all types, and doctors are discussing amongst themselves this apparent contradiction of increasing sales of sunscreens paralleling an increasing incidence in skin cancers.(10)
What research is continuingly and universally revealing with the increase in skin cancers with ubiquitous use of sunscreen chemical filters is an example of the law of unintended consequences. This law identifies that outcomes from a particular "thought to be good" action, which intervenes in a multi-part system, always generate unanticipated and often undesirable results.
Sunscreens are promoted to enable people to stay in the sun 10, 20 or 30 times longer than they normally would, because sunscreen use turns off our natural protective red warning light: sunburn on the skin. This promotion has given us a false sense of safety that we can spend extended amounts of time in the sun without consequences.
The portion of the solar radiation spectrum that causes the sunburn is the ultraviolet B (UVB) band. The first sunscreens only blocked this UVB portion of solar radiation. They did not block the ultraviolet A (UVA) portion, which goes deeper into the lower layers of the skin than does UVB and generates both cancerous changes as well as photo-ageing of the skin. This is one of the reasons why skin cancers have increased with greater use of sunscreens: the body was never getting the full protection that sunscreen users thought they
were guarding against.
Staying in the sun for longer than normal consumes the skin's natural store of antioxidants that are designed to protect the skin cells from damage. Once the antioxidants have been depleted, the body has lost one of its defences against the sun's harmful rays creating an overexposure.
Sunscreen use also hinders our second line of protective defence: tanning. The melanin (brown pigment made by melanocytes in the epidermis) that is created on exposure to the sun naturally absorbs the solar energy and provides protection against solar radiation damage.(11)
The Importance of Vitamin D to Our Health
Another problem is created because sunscreens block the ability of our skin to perform its essential duty of manufacturing vitamin D in response to solar radiation exposure. Vitamin D is a crucial part of our overall health. The promotion of the mass use of sunscreen with the strong message never to be in the sun without it has led to an increase in the many disease states that develop from low vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D at an adequate level is essential for proper bone development as it is necessary for absorbing calcium as well as for regulating calcium and phosphate levels for proper bone formation.(12) Blocking out the sun’s beneficial rays consequently lowers the level of vitamin D. This results in not only osteoporosis but also soft bones in newborns and toddlers that lead to a bow-legged or knock-kneed condition (rickets) in children.(13) The United Kingdom as well as the United States have both seen a re-emergence of rickets as a result of their populations avoiding being in the sun.
Vitamin D is essential in many organs of the body, and low levels are associated with type 2 diabetes in adults and with children being born with type 1 diabetes as well as going into seizures.(14) Low vitamin D results in autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's as well as bowel disorders like Crohn's disease.(15) Vitamin D is also connected to muscle metabolism. The weakened muscles can result in bladder incontinence and weak pelvic floors in women, which may increase the number of Caesarean deliveries that are necessary.(16) In addition, a deficient vitamin D level can lead to fibromyalgia.(17)
To produce enough vitamin D naturally, it is important to enjoy the sun sensibly. Sunscreens – Biohazard discusses the amount of time you need in the sun for manufacturing an adequate level of your own vitamin D, as well as the appropriate supplemental dosage required to achieve a beneficial level. Vitamin D deficiency is now a worldwide phenomenon. It is critical to stop avoiding the sun entirely and get the world's population back up to healthy levels of vitamin D.
Safety Concerns with Broad-Spectrum Formulas
The new "broad spectrum" formulas are not the answer. These newer formulated sunscreens are termed "broad spectrum" because manufacturers are now utilising chemicals to filter both UVB and UVA rays. Several chemicals are required to create a broad- spectrum effect, as each chemical covers only a certain portion of the solar spectrum. However, there are problems associated with combining chemicals. Sunscreen chemicals or metals can become inactivated upon exposure to sunlight—a process called photodegradation. This results in their no longer being able to protect the skin from solar radiation. Combining chemicals makes this process occur more rapidly.(18)
In addition, research studies have identified that while some chemicals may have low toxicity when used individually, combinations of them create new chemical complexes that are much more toxic.(19) Many studies, citing that chemical combinations are now the norm for sunscreen preparations, end with the urging that all future research on possible toxic effects of sunscreen chemicals has to study their effects when mixed in combinations.(20) It is remiss to think that individually approved chemicals do not have harmful potential when combined to create new chemical structures when in fact it has already been proven that these individually approved sunscreen chemicals are not as safe as we have been led to believe.
Moreover, UV radiation covers only a small portion of the solar spectrum, and what are now being promoted as "broad spectrum" sun filters do not provide all the protection we need. Of the solar radiation that penetrates the Earth's atmosphere, the entire UVB and UVA spectrum makes up only 4%, the visible range of light comprises 49% and the near-infrared (NIR) radiation constitutes 47%.(21) These NIR rays are more penetrating, going much deeper than UVA rays, and they cause damaging changes that can result in cancers and photo-ageing of the skin as they destroy both collagen and elastin.(22) Many new chemicals and methods have been researched to prevent NIR damage at the cellular level, but no satisfactory solutions have been found.(23) In essence, with sunscreens we are only protected from UVB and UVA rays, while the more harmful near-infrared rays are allowed through to the skin to create unseen damage. The evidence is clear that this is the case, yet sunscreens labelled as "broad spectrum" continue to be marketed to people as if they will protect them. This is creating another false sense of protection.
Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Harmful to Life
Many studies are now being published which identify that sunscreen chemicals cause disruption to all types of life. The chemicals used in sunscreens are very potent hormones and, as such, are classified as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). They can act like oestrogens, anti-oestrogens, testosterones or antitestosterones when they are introduced into the body, disrupting the natural hormone balance.(24)
When researchers gave rats the sunscreen chemicals benzophenone-3 (BP-3), 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) and octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), they found that the weight of the rats' uteruses increased, which shows that these chemicals exert an oestrogenic action. Based on these results, the researchers stated their concerns: "Our findings indicate that UV screens should be tested for endocrine activity, in view of possible long-term effects in humans and wildlife."(25)
In 2008, the same lead researcher and colleagues determined that 4-MBC and 3- benzylidene camphor (3-BC) affect both the reproductive organs and the central nervous system, demonstrating that these are sensitive targets which develop toxic developmental effects from the hormonally activating sunscreen chemicals. They concluded: "These data indicate that pre- and postnatal exposure to 4-MBC and 3-BC can interfere with sexual development at brain and reproductive organ levels."(26) They also determined that differing combinations of chemicals appear to affect the type of influence that they exert.
Sunscreen use has been so well promoted in America that benzophenone-3 is now found in the blood of 97% of Americans, including 90% of those who stated they had never used sunscreens.(27) This chemical is so widely used that it has found its way into our water systems, and the water filtration plants do not have the capacity to remove it from the water supply. The ubiquitous use of this chemical in so many products has resulted in people having it circulating in their blood, whether they use sunscreens or not.
Another means of gaining access to the body is through the lungs. Breathing in these chemicals is harmful, and their liberal use has led to their being found in household dust.(28) As for the brands that are sold as aerosols, do not use these on children or yourself as they create vapours that are inhaled and find their way into the body through the lungs.
Since these chemicals are found in the blood, they are also occurring in human breast-milk. Indeed, one study showed contamination of 85% of nursing mothers' milk samples, which means that children are drinking potent hormones during crucial early development.(29)
Many of the sunscreen chemicals belong to a class of chemicals called phenols, which are known to be capable of passing through the placenta and entering the foetus.(30) Offspring of rats that are exposed to sunscreen chemicals show general, thyroid and reproductive toxicity, so it follows that our human offspring are subjected to the same harmful changes.(31)
Sunscreens, Autism and ADHD
Sunscreen chemicals could be one of the causes of the worldwide rise in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Considering all the aspects of impact that sunscreen chemicals have on the developing foetus and all the features that autistic children display, it is important to pay attention to the correlations between these two. The features of autism that make it important to look into chemical sunscreens' potential role in the rapid increase in the disorder include: gender differences, thyroid disruption, racial differences, and a rise in incidence that parallels a rise in sunscreen use. Since most sunscreen chemicals act like oestrogens or anti-androgens, thus disrupting testosterone, there is more potential impact on male development compared to female. Autism affects more boys than girls by a 4:1 ratio.(32)
The human embryo is "exquisitely sensitive" to thyroid disruption during gestation, and environmental contaminants within the uterus can interfere with normal embryonic thyroid maturation.(33) Sunscreen chemicals disrupt foetal thyroid development in mammals, and autism is being linked to thyroid deficiencies, particularly during foetal growth.(34)
Abnormal thyroid function affects the development of speech and cognitive skills, both of which are disrupted in the autism spectrum. One study stated: "...it is possible that impaired thyroid function is a cause of some of the symptoms of autism, especially language impairment and mental retardation."(35)
Whites have a higher percentage of sunscreen chemicals in their blood, and a study found that there is a higher incidence of autism in the White race compared to that in Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.(36)
The rise in the incidence of autism parallels the rise in sunscreen use. Sunscreens came onto the market in the 1970s and increased in use during the 1980s. The rise in autism started in the 1980s.
According to new research, a toxic substance capable of disrupting nerve cell formation, combined with lack of vitamin D, is being identified as a cause of either ADHD or autism, depending on the stage of neurological development that was occurring when the foetus, infant or child was exposed to the toxic substance.(37)
Based on these connections, it is imperative to research whether the ubiquitous use of sunscreen chemicals, possibly combined with the many other oestrogenic chemicals (e.g., pesticides) that have been introduced over the last 30 years, could be involved in the exponential rise in autism that has also occurred in the last 30 years.
The Dangers of Nanoparticles
A major problem with far-reaching consequences is that sunscreens utilise materials such as nanoparticles which are relatively new to mankind. Few
quantitative analytical techniques exist for measuring these nanoparticles in natural systems.(38)
The metallic oxides titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are used in sunscreens as they block out UVA as well as UVB rays. Naturally occurring as thick, white, opaque powders, they are manufactured into white pastes to be spread onto the skin, especially the nose (a practice common among lifeguards). To make these oxides more transparent to the eye, manufacturers shrink them down to nanometre-sized particles. Nanoparticles have been allowed to be incorporated in sunscreen formulas without testing because they have been considered safe in their full, natural state or bulk form. However, researchers are finding that the radically reduced size results in radically different behaviours of these oxides.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, identified that the offspring of mice exposed to TiO2 undergo large DNA deletions.(39) Since this shows that nanoparticles cross the placenta, it is likely, then, that damage could occur in human babies who are exposed in the uterus to these microscopic-sized metallic oxides. Other researchers identified that TiO2 nanoparticles not only cross the cell membrane but also cross into the nucleus of the cell, where they create DNA damage and disrupt normal cell division.40 Just as important a finding is the work of others who found that these nanoparticles are so tiny that they cross the protective blood–brain barrier and are capable of killing brain neurons.(41)
Researchers are now stating that these tiny particles were released for consumer use before studies were performed to assure that aquatic and marine life would not be harmed.(42)
Phytoplankton are critical to our planet. They are not only the beginning of the marine food chain, but are estimated to be responsible for the production of 50–90% of the world's oxygen.(43) A 2010 study found that ZnO nanoparticles kill plankton,(44) while others determined that ZnO nanoparticles are extremely toxic and TiO2 nanoparticles are harmful to marine life.(45) Researchers calculated that there are now generally 40% fewer phytoplankton in the world's oceans compared to the 1950 figure.(46) Since it has been proven that zinc oxide nanoparticles kill plankton, it is imperative that we stop contaminating the oceans with sunscreen chemicals.
Multiple studies are now identifying that these nanoparticles are toxic to fish, finding them in their gills, livers, hearts and brains.(47) Also, the chemicals in sunscreens are so hormonally active that fish exposed to them produce offspring with a mixture of male and female reproductive parts, with damage so great that some even stop spawning. Researchers have coined the term "intersex" for these chemically affected offspring.(48)
In addition to TiO2 and ZnO, sunscreen chemicals even at very low concentrations (the same as after showering off the sunscreen) completely bleach (i.e., kill) coral in 96 hours. The chemicals which cause the die-off are the aforementioned BP-3, OMC and 4-MBC as well as the preservative butyl paraben (BP).(49)
Coral bleaching has become a problem around the world. Global warming has been blamed for these bleaching events, but when did they first occur? These events started when tourist populations began to explode in the affected regions. Both the Belize Barrier Reef and Australia's Great Barrier Reef did not experience coral bleaching until large numbers of tourists began to visit. The stress of the sunscreen chemicals decreases the ability of the coral to continue flourishing with a slight change in water temperature.
Since the world's oceans are an important source of food, attention needs to be paid to the loss of marine life due to the message that no one should go out in the sun without sunscreen. How high a price is this to pay?
Beware of Products Claimed to be Natural or Safe
It has become fashionable for sunscreen manufacturers to claim their products to be "natural" or "safe". Even if they're labelled as being safe for coral reefs, these products often contain chemicals which have been proven to kill coral.(50) Some manufacturers claim that they use only the "bulk" form of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and do not use nanoparticles, thus making their products safe. In reality, there is no way to screen out the smaller particles from being included in the bulk form and ensure that you are getting only the larger- sized particles.
Avoiding the harmful chemicals found in sunscreens manufactured today is the first line of defence. Sunscreens – Biohazard includes complete lists of all the sunscreen chemicals, by country of approval, so you can refer to them to determine whether the product you are considering purchasing contains harmful chemicals. It is imperative that you read every label of anything that you buy to place on your skin, as most cosmetics, body lotions and shampoos contain sunscreen chemicals. Titanium dioxide is the most common chemical and is even added to many food products sold in grocery stores as well as natural food stores. Be on the lookout, as sunscreen chemicals are being included in a vast variety of products ranging from perfumes all the way to puddings.
Dietary Antioxidants and Natural Skin Protection
There have been many studies published over the years which prove that antioxidants are very effective in naturally protecting the skin from solar radiation. If there were plenty of reasons in the past to eat a diet high in antioxidants, these findings make it even more important to do so today.
Antioxidants protect against not only ultraviolet radiation, as the sunscreen preparations do, but also near-infrared rays, providing the body with far greater protection than the narrow spectral UV coverage provided by individual chemical sunscreens.
Sunscreens – Biohazard has a chapter covering the numerous types of antioxidant foods which studies show can prevent the harmful changes that occur at the cellular level when staying in the sun for too long. It also includes a handy reference guide to use when shopping, to make sure that you find what will work best in protecting you from the sun.
The body is designed to manufacture the natural sun- protective chemicals it requires to protect itself—if given the raw materials it needs to do so. The sunscreens of the future will most likely include antioxidants, in combination with advice to consume high concentrations of antioxidant-rich foods.
Lessons from Australia’s SunSmart Program
The rest of the world can learn from Australia's SunSmart program with its media messages that encourage common-sense protective behaviour and the use of special clothing to shield the sun's rays. It has brought back into fashion clothing styles that cover more of the skin, including clothing cover-ups for children. We do need to make vitamin D in our skin, so covering up from the sun completely is not a good idea. Additionally, the tan that develops from exposure to the sun is beneficial in protecting the cells from damaging solar radiation. We can start by wearing clothing with longer sleeves and skirts or pants as well as hats and gloves, as our ancestors did just half a century ago. When swimming in Hawaii in 2011, I noticed that more parents had their children wearing swimwear with extended sleeves and legs.
However, be wary of the cloth or clothing designed and manufactured to provide UV protection, as it is impregnated with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide nanoparticles. This is not the answer, as the nanoparticles in the material which lies against the skin can be absorbed. Also, these nanoparticles are washed off to such a degree that the clothing no longer provides protection after about 20 washes. Additionally, the nanoparticles end up in our waterways via washing- water runoff and disrupt our aquatic ecosystems.
Australia's SunSmart promotion has resulted in a reduction in melanoma incidence and mortality in the younger population.(51) Unfortunately, the SunSmart program with its "Slip! Slop! Slap! Seek! Slide!" message promotes the use of sunscreens as part of the protective process. What we need to take from this program is the advice to be smart about how we interact with the sun. Do not stay in the sun for more time than your body can handle, depending on your skin type. Spend only a reasonable amount of time in the sun. Sit in the shade. Use fabrics and materials that have a tight weave to block out the sun's rays; the tighter the weave, the better to protect your body and ultimately all life on the planet.
A New Strategy to Nurture Life on Earth
Today there are many programs designed to protect all life forms on Earth. Just stopping the use of sunscreens will produce great benefits not only for coral, plankton and fish but also for all of our children, including those who are yet to be born. They can have a less toxic environment that protects their fragile development in the womb and during the first critical years of growth.
Since antioxidants are a simple antidote, there is no need to keep contaminating our planet and its water systems. Let everyone know to stop using sunscreens in their current harmful formulations and help create a safe and healthy environment for all life forms.
The world's ecosystems are being affected, as these chemicals are now being found in all aquatic and marine species tested and we are seeing a cumulative
build-up in the food chains in both environments.(52) A study in Europe found sunscreen chemicals in lakes and rivers.(53) These findings indicate that these chemicals have already contaminated the water systems of the world.
We need to stop purchasing these products and call on manufacturers to develop safe and effective products that will protect us when we need to spend excessive amounts of time in the sun. We should be able to work and play in the sun without concern that the chemicals that we are placing on our skin to protect us are going to do more harm than good.
The answer on how to protect our children, our families and ourselves is not complicated, but it does require a shift in our lifestyle and our relationship to the sun. It requires a combination of improving our diet and not continuing to believe that we can stay in the sun 10, 20 or 30 times longer than our body can handle. We need to respect what our body can manage safely and work with it to let it protect itself naturally. ∞
About the Author: Elizabeth Plourde, CLS, NCMP, PhD, is a clinical laboratory scientist and medical researcher as well as an author and international speaker specialising in hormones and hormonal balance. She is certified by the North American Menopause Society as a menopause practitioner. Her expertise has been essential in explaining the full impact that sunscreens have on humans and other life forms on this planet.
Dr Plourde’s book Sunscreens – Biohazard: Treat as Hazardous Waste was reviewed in NEXUS 19/02. To obtain the book and for more information, visit the website http://www.sunscreensbiohazard.com. A pdf of this article, with extensive endnotes, can also be downloaded.
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by Elizabeth Plourde,
CLS, NCMP, PhD © 2011
New Voice for Health New Voice Publications PO Box 14133 Irvine, CA 92623-4133, USA Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.sunscreensbiohazard.com
Published in Nexus 19(2) Feb-Mar 2012 - www.nexusmagazine.com/
Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections
Danovaro R, Bongiorni L, Corinaldesi C, Giovannelli D, Damiani E, et al. 2008 Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections. Environ Health Perspect 116(4): doi:10.1289/ehp.10966 http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.10966b