Sunscreen advice driven by profits, not science

Happy 4th of July!

As droves of sun-lovers head to the lake, ocean or pool today, it’s the perfect time to take another look at the whole “shady” sunscreen industry. As I mentioned yesterday, new evidence ties regular sunscreen use with the vitamin D deficiency epidemic we now face in this country.

But sunscreen manufacturers don’t want you to know the real story, so I try to give periodic analyses with data from some of the most current scientific studies.

Recently, the Environmental Working Group, a public research organization, turned its attention to this sad state of affairs. They investigated 880 sunscreen products and 120 lip balm products.

About three-quarters of these products on the market offer inferior sun “protection” and/or contain toxic chemicals. Plus, scant scientific evidence from research studies shows that using these sunscreen products actually fulfill their intended purpose of reducing the risk of skin cancers. Ironically, the FDA forbids manufacturers from making false marketing claims like “waterproof” and “sweat proof,” but it still allows the unsubstantiated claim of cancer protection.

Plus, we now know what really caused the increase in deadly melanoma skin cancer observed in recent decades. It was not due to sun exposure. It was not due to “sunscreen deficiency.” And it was not due to anything that adults do at all, in the sun, without their clothes on. (Wouldn’t you know it, French scientists discovered this huge breakthrough!)

This recent French statistical analysis clearly links the rise in melanoma death rates to an outdated medical practice used during the 20th century. This practice, which involved exposing children to extensive, whole-body ultraviolet radiation for supposed health benefits, caused the spike in melanoma rates we now see in older adults.

Thankfully, this deadly practice ended by the 1950s — and skin cancer rates are actually falling among today’s aging baby boomers. This generation did not get artificial, medical UV radiation. But they did get a lot more sun exposure on a lot more skin during the 1960s and 1970s before the sunscreen scam took hold.

It actually remains questionable whether sunscreen has any long-term benefits at all. But as I reported yesterday, we do know it blocks the natural production of active vitamin D, which research links to a host of health problems, including cancers — and specifically skin cancer!

15 minutes a day for optimal vitamin D

Your skin has the best natural sun protection of all — the pigment called melanin. In fact, unless you are a rare person with very fair skin and red hair pigmentation, your skin will respond to normal sun exposure by getting a healthy, golden tan. Spending 15 minutes in the sun each day, your skin will naturally produce melanin and vitamin D.

The real goal is to avoid getting a sunburn, which, in most people, only occurs after spending an hour or more under intense sun exposure. In these instances, I have a few tips for choosing a safe sunscreen.

  1. Minerals make sense

Mineral-based sunscreens with titanium or zinc oxide, usually in the form of nanoparticles, work best for this purpose. They don’t break down with heat and sun. They provide balanced protection from both ultraviolet A and B radiation. Plus, they typically don’t contain toxic chemical additives.

  1. Avoid two key chemicals

Try to avoid harmful ingredients like oxybenzone, which disrupts hormones, and retinyl palmitate, a synthetic form of vitamin A. Government studies show retinyl palmitate causes skin cancers and other lesions when exposed to sunlight.

  1. Skip the sprays

Even the FDA has warned about spray sunscreen. First off, sprays don’t evenly cover the skin. Second, with sprays, you run the risk of inhaling the toxic chemicals. Third, the fumes in spray sunscreen can be flammable.

In fact, the first summer of writing my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I vividly recall reporting a highly publicized case of accidental self-immolation from using a sunscreen spray that caught fire when the user was exposed to open flames from a grill. Nonetheless, the industry has released nearly one-third more spray products since all these concerns were raised.

The FDA threatened to take action against sun spray manufacturers, but it hasn’t actually done anything yet. Apparently, you can legally inhale toxic allergens, carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and other deadly chemicals from sunscreen sprays. But you’d better not get a whiff of smoke from a burning plant leaf — unless it’s marijuana.

  1. Higher isn’t always better

The biggest scam of all involves the SPF ratings themselves.

In fact, in 2011, the FDA determined that SPF numbers are inherently misleading. And using a sunscreen with a higher SPF doesn’t mean you can stay longer in the sun. So — they moved to cap SPF at 50. But since then, the industry has released seven times more meaningless products with SPF of 70 or even 100.

As I have reported before, SPF in the teens already offers maximum sun protection for all practical purposes. Anything higher is a waste. Plus, sunscreen with an SPF of 15 blocks 99 percent of all vitamin D synthesis — one of the most important health benefits of getting some sun!

Clearly, as I long suspected, the sunscreen industry doesn’t pay any attention to science at all. It appears entirely driven by marketing and takes advantage of the dermatologists’ misguided obsession to avoid the sun. Indeed, for decades, dermatologists and other doctors have made the public petrified of the sun, the ultimate source of all life and health.

My best advice?

Avoid the superficial sunscreen SPF scam — where the science is not even skin deep.