Article taken, with permission from 7/1/08

Four Out of Five Sunscreens May Be Hazardous to Your Health

sun, sunlight, sunshine, sunscreen, suntan lotion, tanningA consumer advocacy group has a warning for parents who think they're protecting their family with sunscreen: You may be getting burned.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based nonprofit, has released an investigation of nearly 1,000 brand-name sunscreens that says four out of five don't adequately protect consumers and may contain harmful chemicals.

The group says that some of the products of the nation's leading brands -- including Coppertone, Neutrogena and Banana Boat -- are the poorest performers.

The active ingredients of sunscreens are compounds that absorb, reflect or block ultraviolet light. Sunscreens are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration not as cosmetics but as over-the-counter drugs. They’re rated based on their Sun Protection Factor (SPF); the higher the SPF, the better the protection against sunburn.

The Environmental Working Group says that the SPF rating on a sun product is only part of what consumers need to know, and that the biggest problems with sunscreens are that they don't offer appropriate protection and that many contain unsafe ingredients.



Dr. Mercola Dr. Mercola's Comments:

For decades now, the media and health care “professionals” have warned you of how dangerous and damaging  the sun is.  At best, you’ve been told that it will cause wrinkles and age you prema­turely. At worst, that it will greatly accelerate your risk of cancer.  The answer that the cancer industry and suntan lotion manufacturers concocted for mutual benefit was: use sunscreen – and plenty of it!

Sunscreens are enormously profitable for the companies that produce them, and thus there’s a strong incentive for them to continue and expand their disinformation campaigns to increase their market share even further. Portions of their revenue are in turn given to the cancer industry, which aids them in perpetuating the campaign. And while it’s true that you want to avoid sunburn, the ingredients used in most commercially available sunscreens are questionable at best. As you’ll see, many of them can cause more damage than they prevent.

There are solutions, however, for those times when you need to limit your sun exposure. After all, summer is coming into full swing, with beach and pool excursions being planned by many. I’ve researched many types of all-natural, non-toxic sunscreens and am confident that I’ve found the best of the best, which I will share with you shortly.

The Case Against Sunscreen

Few health recommendations have had as damaging an effect as the advice that you should never leave your house without sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen effectively blocks your body’s production of vitamin D, which happens naturally when your skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact, sunscreens reduce vitamin D production by as much as 97.5 to 99.9 percent.

The widespread acceptance and adoption of this faulty doctrine has contributed to severe vitamin D deficiency on a grand scale, which in turn claims about one million lives a year from 16 different types of cancer and other common diseases such as:

However, that’s not to say that sunlight can’t be harmful. Of course it can be. Anyone who has ever gotten a sunburn knows that sunlight, at a high intensity over a long enough period, most certainly can damage your skin.

But how can you protect yourself from overexposure SAFELY?

From the research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), we now have further proof that a very large portion of commercially available sunscreens are NOT safe to use, do NOT last as long as promised, and may NOT protect you from the most damaging rays of the sun.

In fact, many of them give you a false sense of security that encourages excessive sun exposure and can lead to skin damage. They’re also likely carcinogens all by themselves!

Wow. Triple health hazards for the price of one!

To Prevent Skin Damage You Have to Protect Against the Most Damaging Rays

Ultraviolet light from the sun comes in two main wavelengths – UVA and UVB.  It’s important for you to understand the difference between them, and your risk factors from each.

Consider UVB the ‘good guy’ that helps your skin produce vitamin D.

UVA is considered the ‘bad guy’ because it penetrates your skin more deeply and causes more free radical damage.  Not only that, but UVA rays are quite constant during ALL hours of daylight, throughout the entire year -- unlike UVB, which are low in morning and evening, and high at midday.

If you’ve ever gotten a scorching sunburn on a cloudy day, you now understand why; it’s from the deeply penetrating UVA!

Since UVA’s are inherently more damaging, AND persistently high during all daylight hours, wearing a sunscreen that doesn’t protect you from UVA is going to give you virtually no benefit, and be detrimental to your overall health.

Two non-toxic ingredients that scatter both UVB and the more damaging UVA rays are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They’ve been used all over the world for over 75 years as safe sunscreens. These two natural minerals form the base of my Natural Sunscreen, which is based on a secret recipe from Acapulco natives.

What Makes Sunscreens Toxic?

A study in the April 2004 Journal of Chromatography found that there was significant penetration into the skin of all sunscreen agents they studied. And slathering a carcinogenic agent onto your skin may in fact be worse for your health than ingesting it, as it goes straight into your blood stream.

By following experts' recommendations to apply generous amounts of sunscreen every few hours to prevent skin cancer, you are likely absorbing a fair amount.

Making matters worse, scientists are not even sure whether sunscreen prevents against melanoma in the first place. They’ve suggested that sunscreen may prevent sunburn, but may fail to actually protect against cancer because most sunscreens only screen out UVB, which makes vitamin D, not the UVA that causes most of the damage.

Some studies have even found a link between melanoma and the use of commercial sunscreen! Additionally, potentially harmful chemicals such as dioxybenzone and oxybenzone are some of the most powerful free radical generators known to man. And yet other studies have linked specific chemical UV filters with the transsexualization of male fish and coral reef degradation.

In light of that, I believe it’s imperative to do your homework, and to ONLY use a natural sunscreen with safe, non-toxic ingredients, so as to not add to your toxic load, and perhaps still not be protected from damaging UVA.

As you can see from this list, compiled from the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website, there are lots of potential dangers lurking in your sunscreens:

Octinoxate (Octyl Methoxycinnamate)

The most widely used sunscreen ingredient, known for its low potential to sensitize skin or act as a phototallergen. Estrogenic effects are noted in laboratory animals as well as disruption of thyroid hormone and brain signaling. Has been found to kill mouse cells even at low doses when exposed to sunlight!

Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3)

Associated with photoallergic reactions. This chemical absorbs through your skin in significant amounts. It contaminates the bodies of 97% of Americans according to Centers for Disease Control research. Health concerns include hormone disruption and cancer.


Octisalate is a weak UVB absorber with a generally good safety profile among sunscreen ingredients. It is a penetration enhancer, which may increase the amount of other ingredients passing through skin.

Avobenzone (Parsol 1789)

Primarily a UVA-absorbing agent, sunlight causes this unstable ingredient to break down into unknown chemicals, especially in the presence of another active, Octinoxate.


Produces oxygen radicals when exposed to UV light.


Research indicates it is a weak hormone disruptor, forms toxic metabolites, and can enhance the penetration of a toxic herbicide.

Micronized Titanium Dioxide

Sunscreens with micronized titanium dioxide may contain nanoparticles. Micronized TiO2 offers greater sun protection than conventional (larger) particles. These small particles do not penetrate skin but may be more toxic to living cells and the environment. Inhalation of powders and sprays is a concern.

Micronized Zinc Oxide

Same as Micronized Titanium Dioxide, above.

Titanium Dioxide

Appears safe for use on skin, due to low penetration but inhalation is a concern.

Ensulizole (Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid)

Known to produce free radicals when exposed to sunlight, leading to damage of DNA, this UVB protector may have the potential to cause cancer.

Nano Zinc Oxide

Nano zinc oxide offers greater sun protection than larger zinc particles. Comparatively little is known regarding potential health effects of nanoparticles. They do not penetrate healthy skin, and thus appear to pose a low health risk in lotions. Inhalation of powders and sprays is a concern.

Nano Titanium Dioxide

Same as Nano Zinc Oxide, above.

Zinc Oxide

Zinc has a long history of use in sunscreen and other skin care products; little absorption and no adverse health effects are reported.

Padimate O (Octyl Dimethyl PABA / PABA Ester)

A derivative of the once-popular PABA sunscreen ingredient, research shows this chemical releases free radicals, damages DNA, has estrogenic activity, and causes allergic reactions in some people.

Menthyl Anthranilate

1 study found that it produces damaging reactive oxygen species when exposed to sunlight.

Mexoryl SX

2 hours of sunlight can degrade as much as 40% of this active ingredient. Low skin penetration.

Methylene Bis-Benzotriazolyl Tetramethylbutylphenol

Not an approved active ingredient in the U.S.  Few studies exist on this chemical. It is photostable and does not absorb through your skin.

Sulisobenzone (Benzophenone-4)

Can cause skin and eye irritation. Does not penetrate your skin to a large degree, but enhances the ability of other chemicals to penetrate.


Not approved for use in United States sunscreens. Concerns about hormone disruption.

What’s in Your Beach Bag?

Fortunately, there ARE all-natural ways to protect yourself from sunburn that you can use instead of resorting to the toxic infusions of commercial sunscreens. The most obvious and safest option is to put on a long sleeved shirt, pants and a hat once you’ve reached your limit of sun exposure (you can tell you’ve had enough right when your skin turns the lightest shade of pink).

At this point, I’m sure you’d agree that commercial sunscreens are out of the question.

Your next best bet is to find an all-natural, non-chemical sunscreen. There are several on the market, but my favorite is Natural Sunscreen.

Instead of chemicals and potentially toxic compounds, each active ingredient in this outstanding product has been carefully chosen to specifically protect and nourish your skin. In addition to UVA/UVB-protecting titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, it contains only all-natural ingredients such as:

  • Sunflower oil
  • Vitamins A, D and E
  • Coconut oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Shea butter
  • Eucalyptus oil

As a side note, I’ve also found that my USDA Certified Organic Body Butter works really great as a post tanning lotion, or to soften your skin after a swim (especially if you’re going to the pool as chlorinated  water is very harsh, and dries out your skin).