Sunscreen: 21st Century Snake Oil

ETR reader SR in New York recently wrote, “I read that most sunscreens contain a chemical that acts like estrogen in the body. Could this be harmful? And should I avoid sunscreen? I’m heading to Florida in a few weeks and don’t want to get burned.”

The Dangers of Sunscreen
The answer is yes. Almost all commercial sunscreens contain not just one but several chemicals, known as xenoestrogens, that mimic the hormone estrogen. Your Best Health Under the Sun, a book I wrote with Dr. Al Sears, highlights a Swiss study that found five of these chemicals in commonly used sunscreens:

  • Octyl-dimethyl-PABA (OD-PABA)
  • Benzophenone-3 (Bp-3)
  • Homosalate (HMS)
  • Octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC)
  • 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC)

In laboratory testing, each one of these chemicals behaves like estrogen. And when they are combined, they can have a synergistic effect. In other words, two “weak” xenoestrogens can produce a very strong response.

Not only does this disrupt the hormonal system, but these chemicals are known to stimulate tumor growth and the spread of cancer. (Not to mention a decline in male sperm count, early puberty, and feminine characteristics in men.)

And don’t think you’re safe just because you don’t “ingest” these chemicals. Clinical studies show that they easily penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream.

Whenever possible, you should avoid using chemical sunscreen. Protect yourself from sunburn with clothing and shade. And when it is necessary to use sunscreen, look for a chemical-free product with zinc oxide as the active ingredient. (You can find several brands at health food stores.)

[Ed. Note: Now you know one danger of sunscreen. But does that mean you should skip the sun altogether? Absolutely not. Dr. Al Sears and Jon Herring reveal the amazing, life-saving benefits of sunshine in Your Best Health Under the Sun.]