No, sunscreen is not bad for you. In fact, it’s critical to protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Sunburns are bad for you—really bad for you. By now, we can all pretty much agree on that. There have been decades of research and numerous studies performed around the sun’s harmful effects. For example, the American Cancer Society reports that skin cancer accounts for one-third of all cancers diagnosed worldwide. And the International Agency for Research on Cancer claims that excessive sun damage accounts for 95% of malignant melanomas.
The risks are real. We understand that, and we are told that sunscreen helps prevent them. But does it really? Or could it be doing more harm than good?
First, it’s important to understand that there are two types of sunscreen. The physical kind uses zinc and titanium dioxide to block or “scatter” the sun’s harmful rays from penetrating your epidermis. The second kind allows some sunlight to pass through your skin, but relies on a chemical reaction to prevent damage from harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Both kinds of sunscreen carry their own set of concerns.
Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide concerns some scientists, who believe that the mineral’s nanoparticles may be tiny enough to penetrate all the layers of your skin and be absorbed into your bloodstream. A recent study showed that the nanoparticles created inflammation in the body, which can lead to premature aging and cancer. However, it’s important to note that this study was performed on rodents; it is currently unclear whether or not the effect would be the same in humans.
With chemical sunscreen, it’s less of an ingredients issue and more about how these chemicals interact with each other. Animal studies have suggested that the way the chemicals absorb the UVA/UVB rays could cause damage to the body’s hormone system.
But with either type of sunscreen, there just isn’t enough data to definitively override the benefits of its use. And it’s pretty useful: a recent Australian study found that those who applied sunscreen daily saw 50% fewer melanomas than those who wore sunscreen sporadically or not at all.
Even though sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer, it cannot be relied on entirely. The surest way to reduce your risk is to stay out of the sun, or at least limit your time in it. When you are in the sun, use sunscreen—but pick the right kind. In addition to there being two different types of sunscreen (physical and chemical), there are also different brands, forms, and levels of protection. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends SPF 30 or greater with broad-spectrum protection and water resistance such as the Alba Botanica Aloe Vera Sunscreen. Reapply as directed.
Possible short-term side effects
- skin irritation
Possible long-term side effects
- hormone disruption
Ingredients to be aware of
- titanium dioxide/zinc oxide
- guards against sunburn
- protects skin from premature aging
- helps reduce risk of skin cancer