Sunscreen: Helpful or Harmful?


Those of us living on farms and growing even some our own foods cannot help but spend a fair amount of time outside. That inevitably brings up the topic of sun exposure. And that brings up skin cancer. As the wife of a man who has survived melanoma, as well we more basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and dysplastic nevi that I can remember at this point, I cringe when I hear someone say that sunscreen causes cancer. That’s like saying that water kills people, which it can. But there’s a huge difference between drinking water every day and drowning. And there is a big difference between the various sunscreens on the market, as well as how they are used.

Does sunscreen cause cancer?

Although there are plenty of people who claim that some of the chemicals in sunscreen are carcinogenic, I have not been able to find any convincing evidence that it actually causes cancer in humans. Nanoparticles of zinc oxide are thought to be carcinogenic if inhaled, but some sunscreens use non-nano zinc oxide, so you need to know whether the specific product has one or the other — and only spray-on sunscreens would really have the risk of inhalation. Some also worry that the nanoparticles may be absorbed into the skin, which would be another reason to look for products that specifically state that they use non-nano zinc oxide.

Does sunscreen affect your hormone production?

There is plenty of evidence that sunscreen chemicals are endocrine disruptors in humans. In other words, they mess with your hormone production, which includes things like thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, insulin, progesterone, and so on. Oxybenzone is a popular sunscreen chemical, and it is considered unsafe by the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. It has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor in humans, according to the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption and several published studies. Octinoxate is also an endocrine disruptor. Both of these chemicals are also shown to cause changes on the cellular level, which is what may cause some people to assume they are carcinogenic. Both chemicals also accumulate in the human body. According to the CDC, oxybenzone is found in the bodies of 97% of Americans. Octinoxate has been found in mother’s milk. These chemicals are also bad for the environment as they have been shown to kill coral reefs.

Fragrance in sunscreens

The vast majority of sunscreens contain “fragrance,” which is a proprietary blend of unknown chemicals that can be carcinogenic and disrupt hormones and have other harmful effects. Do not be fooled by any that put “made with essential oils” on the front label. Look for the word “fragrance” on the ingredient list. They can label it as “made with essential oils,” if they simply add a couple drops of essential oil, but the majority of that “fragrance” is probably cheaper synthetic fragrances that are actually illegal to use in many other countries because of the known negative health effects.

How safe is your sunscreen?

If you have sunscreen in your house right now, grab it and check the ingredient list. If it contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, it is definitely time to look for a safer product, especially if you are using it on your children because hormone disruption is especially problematic in children. However, those two chemicals are only the beginning. You can look up many specific brands on the EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens, and if they don’t have your specific brand, you can look up individual ingredients in EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.

13 thoughts on “Sunscreen: Helpful or Harmful?”

  1. We often use homemade sunscreen, but it’s a bit of a hassle to make, and we haven’t made any yet this year. If there’s just a thing of ‘liquid’ sunscreen, that would be great to win.

  2. I too am a melanoma survivor, and I currently don’t use sunscreen because of all the nasty stuff in them. I am THRILLED beyond measure to learn that there is a product that is safer to use! Thank you for sharing this information – I hope I win the giveaway so I can try it out (although I’ll be purchasing some too!)

  3. We’ve use honest company sunscreen for this same reason, always looking for safer alternatives to the “chemical” sunscreens. I’ve never tried beauty counter, but will look there in the future. Thank you for posting this!

  4. i dont often use sunscreens unless i’m at a waterpark or the lake or the beach then I use Coppertone Sport because it seems to last longer and keeps me from burning. I’d love to try the Countersun Sunscreen Lotion. Most of the time I just wear longsleeves and a hat.

    • Coppertone sunscreens are some of the worst when it comes to unsafe ingredients. Even their baby sunscreen has octinoxate in it, which is an endocrine disruptor. Most of their sunscreens score 7 or worse and are in the red zone because they contain so many unsafe ingredients.

    • They use oxybenzone in almost all of their sunscreens, and they have a lot of other unsafe ingredients. Most of their sunscreens have scores of 7 or more (all in the red zone) on the EWG website, which means they contain ingredients known to be unsafe.

    • Hopefully you are not using the ones they make with octinoxate, one of the dangerous chemicals mentioned above. I just checked their website, and that is in some of their sunscreens. Be sure to read the label on the one you have. It also has a lot of other chemicals. That brand is not included on EWG’s website, but you can check the ingredients on the Skin Deep Database listed above. If they are using an endocrine disrupting chemical in some of their sunscreens, they are probably also using other unsafe ingredients.


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