Is Your Sunscreen Toxic or Cancer-Causing?


Flora Fauna's Skin Elixir--a beautiful, natural sun oil. 

Thanks to several decades of corporate marketing, we have been convinced that sun exposure is bad, period, and that sunscreen is essential in order to protect us against skin cancer. 

But what many people don't realize is that most commercial sunscreens contain ingredients that themselves could cause skin damage, and even skin cancer! And even many so-called "natural" sunscreens may also contain ingredients that are unsafe. 

Some of the most common chemical sunscreen formulas feature substances like Benzophenone 2 (BP2) which impedes the function of the thyroid gland, is bio-accumulative (stays in the body), and disrupts the endocrine (hormone) systems in humans and animals (1).  Oxybenzone, another very common ingredient, was lambasted in 2010 by the US Environmental Working Group, who suggested that the chemical (also known as Benzophenone-3) is absorbed into the body through the skin, disturbs hormone balance, and damages cells in a manner that could lead to skin cancer.  The EWG's controversial stance contradicts the FDA and Canada's cosmetics regulatory body, which continue to support the supposed safety of Oxybenzone. Octyl-methoxycinnamate is another additive that speeds oxidation and appears to possibly increase the damage that UV rays can do to the skin. Similarly, Butyl-Methdiebenzolymethane releases free radicals into the body.  

There aren't any studies that prove conclusively that commercial sunscreens specifically cause cancer, but considering what is known about these distinct ingredients and their effect on the body (and the skin), it seems pretty clear to us that there's some irony to the fact that the exponential rise in skin cancer rates came about at the same time that there was a massive corporate (and governmental) push for the use of sunscreen.  We tend to wonder if this isn't a perfect example of the selling of a solution that itself manufactures a problem. 

Even most so-called "natural" sunscreens contain, sadly, substances that we aren't comfortable using on our skin. "Physical" (as opposed to "chemical") sunscreens are thought to have come a long way.  Ten or fifteen years ago, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens were known to be pretty goopy and pasty--this is because both zinc and titanium dioxides were made with fairly large particles, that sat on the surface of the skin, forming the physical barrier against the sun.  

Most "natural" sunscreens these days though, contain a new, "micronized" form of these oxides--also sometimes known as "nanoparticles". Some researchers are concerned that these tiny particles--particularly when it comes to Titanium Dioxide--are small enough to penetrate through the skin and into the body, and that this could potentially cause cellular damage and even brain issues. 

Flora & Fauna's Skin elixir is *not* a sunscreen or a sunblock--in fact, it's not legal to make such claims, unless one's formula contains either the toxic chemicals listed in the opening of this article, or Titanium and Zinc oxides!  

Nonetheless, one of Flora & Fauna Skin Elixir's main ingredients is Red Raspberry oil, which, according to a study done by researchers from Canada, France and China, "may act as a broad spectrum UV protectant and provide pro- tection against both UV-A, an exogenous origin of oxidative stress to the skin, and UV-B. The optical transmission of raspberry seed oil, especially in the UV range (290±400 nm) was comparable to that of titanium dioxide preparations with sun protection factor for UV- B (SPF) and protection factor for UV-A (PFA) values between 28±50 and 6.75±7.5, respectively." (2)

Perhaps most significantly, our formula also contains many ingredients that may protect against cancer formation in spite of sun exposure, neutralizing free radicals and other environmental stressors that contribute to the appearance of aging, and cancers. 

Ultimately, it is important to be careful when it comes to sun exposure, to wear hats whenever possible, and to do what we can to prevent burns.  But humans are designed to thrive under sunlight, and the many benefits of sun exposure shouldn't be understated.  The concept of safety tends to be subjective, political, and biased, always.  But we feel much more comfortable using products on our faces and skin that are 100% natural, and safe, (and for our kids as well!) rather than taking chances with questionable ingredients. 

Have fun out there!

--Flora & Fauna Apothecary