Safe Sunscreen

Worldwide, the greatest rise in melanoma has been experienced in countries where chemical sunscreens have been heavily promoted. The rise in melanoma has been exceptionally high in Queensland, Australia where the medical establishment has vigorously promoted the use of sunscreens. Queensland now has more incidences of melanoma per capita than any other place on Earth (1). Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh in California believes that the use of sunscreens causes more cancer deaths than it prevents. He estimates that the 17% increase in breast cancer observed between 1981 and 1992 may be the result of the pervasive use of sunscreens over the past decade (2). Recent studies have also shown a higher rate of melanoma among men who regularly use sunscreens and a higher rate of basal cell carcinoma among women using sunscreens (3). A study by Drs. Mike Brown (Kate Law of the Cancer Research Campaign) Philippe Autier (European Institute of Oncology in Milan) reported that children using sunscreen returned from holiday with more skin moles – a possible sign of increased cancer risk.

Chemical sunscreen ingredients to avoid and why

  • Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) – one of the most commonly used ingredients in sunscreens. May produce free radicals. Past research has shown that it can cause hormone disruption, allergic reactions and immune dysfunction.

  • Oxybenzone – another commonly used active that is a synthetic estrogen. It is rapidly oxidized in the presence of light and inactivates important antioxidant systems (the skin’s natural protection) in the skin and can potentially disrupt hormone activity and cause allergic reactions.

  • Cinoxate – may cause DNA damage (sister chromatid exchanges).

  • Padimate-O – may produce free radicals in presence of light (singlet molecular oxygen) and substantially increases indirect damage (strand breaks in DNA) when in contact with cells.

  • Carriers – the other 80% of remaining ingredients may include mineral oil, petrolatum, isopropyl esters, lanolin, synthetic emulsifiers, fragrances and thickeners. NOTE: these do not have to appear on the label.
  • Dibenzoylmethane and Parsol 1789 – can produce free radicals responsible for direct DNA damage (strand breaks).
  • Human Fibroblasts – by creating new cell growth there is the possibility of initiating malignant cancerous growth.
  • Methyl Sinapate – may cause DNA damage (chromosome aberrations and sister chromatid exchanges).
  • Phenylbenzimidazole sulphonic acid and 2-phenylbenzimidazole – can act as photosensitizes of DNA damage when exposed to sunlight or UVB radiation.
  • Preservatives – can generally be just as toxic as the sunscreen itself. Formaldehyde, DMDM, diazolindinyl urea (Germall), and quarternium compounds that release formaldehyde are still commonly used.
  • Retinoids or Retinyl Palmitate – still found in about 30% of sunscreens, it can cause sensitivities and a reaction with sunlight resulting in hyperplasia, skin tumors and also create free radicals that can potentially damage DNA. If you do use this ingredient, make sure it is in a night time product only. Use the prescribed amount and do not use if you are exposing yourself to sunlight.

Are Nanoparticles Safe in Sunscreen?

The potential for metal oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens to cause harm primarily depends upon the ability of these objects to penetrate the skin. The current weight of evidence suggests that such nanoparticles do not do this. This link provides an in-depth study based upon credible scientific reports by The Skin Cancer Foundation, John Hopkins and EWG that it is helping reduce consumer concerns over using nanoparticle-based sunscreens, allowing them to make more accurate informed decisions that will result in better UV protection.


    • (1) Garland, Cedric F., et al. Could sunscreens increase melanoma risk? American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 82, No. 4, April 1992, pp. 614-15.
    • (2) Ainsleigh, H. Gordon. Beneficial effects of sun exposure on cancer mortality. Preventive Medicine, Vol. 22, February 1993, pp. 132-40.
    • (3) Garland, Cedric F. et al. Effect of sunscreens on UV radiation-induced enhancement of melanoma growth in mice. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 86, No. 10, May 18, 1994, pp. 798-801 :Larsen, H.R. “Sunscreens: do they cause skin cancer.” International Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 1994; 12(12): 17-19; Farmer K.C. & Naylor, M.F. “Sun exposure, sunscreens and skin cancer prevention: a year-round concern.” Ann Pharmacother, 1996; 30(6):662-73.