July 20th, 2011
The Huffington Post
By: Dr. Frank Lipman
For decades now, the mainstream medical establishment has been bombarding us with warnings to stay out of the sun! Use an SPF-50 sunscreen! Stay indoors till sunset! Wear a burka at the beach!
But has the case against sun exposure been taken perhaps a bit too far? I certainly think so. With the rise of “sun-o-phobia” what’s gotten lost in the shuffle is the fact that there are actual benefits to sun exposure in limited doses. Recent studies have shown that optimizing your Vitamin D levels may actually help prevent as many as 16 different types of cancers. And the best way to optimize Vitamin D levels? Safe, smart and limited sunscreen-free exposure to the sun! Exposure helps the skin produce the Vitamin D it needs to build bones, quell inflammation, bolster the immune system and protect against cancer (including skin cancer). Now of course this is by no means a license to overdo it, but it consider it permission to step outside and into the sun a bit less fearfully!
So how to use the sun to your advantage? Here’s what I recommend:
Manage your dose. Have a healthy respect for the sun. It is a powerful medicine with potentially dangerous side effects on your skin. Treat it like medication, using the lowest dose necessary — but don’t avoid it completely. And remember, never, ever fall asleep in the sun without protection.
Always avoid sunburn. It is sunburn, not healthy sun exposure, that causes problems. Repeated sunburns, especially in children and very fair-skinned people, have been linked to melanoma. Whereas there is no credible scientific evidence that regular, moderate sun exposure causes melanoma or other skin cancers — so prepare your skin and build up tolerance gradually. Start early in the year (spring), or early in the morning before the sun is strongest, and slowly build up the amount of time you spend in the sun.
Make your own sunscreen. Boost your “internal sunscreen” by consuming antioxidants and beneficial fats. These strengthen skin cells, helping to protect them from sun damage. Eating lots of vegetables and fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, goji berries and pomegranates, and supplementing with green powdered mixes and fish oils helps prep your body for limited, careful sun exposure.
Get frequent, short exposures. Regular short exposures have been found to be much more effective and much safer than intermittent long ones. Note that you cannot generate Vitamin D when sitting behind a glass window, because the UVB rays necessary for Vitamin D production are absorbed by glass. Get 15-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure 2-4 times a week. Each of us has different needs for unprotected sun exposure to maintain adequate levels of Vitamin D. Depending on your age, what type of skin you have, where you live and what time of the day and year it is, your needs will vary. For more specifics, I recommend the tables in “The Vitamin D Solution” by Dr. Michael Holick.
Know when to stop. After your 15-30 minutes of sun-block free time in the sun, you must protect yourself. If you’re going to be out in the sun for longer periods, wear a hat to protect your face and light-colored clothing that blocks the sun and keeps you cool. When you do apply sunscreen, use one the fewest chemicals possible.
Check out the recipe … of your sunscreen that is. What’s in the tube in high doses can be almost as dangerous as the diseases they are said to prevent — so shop smart when it comes to sunscreens. A typical sunscreen product is a chemical assault on your body, many of which contain cancer causing chemicals. According to the Environmental Working Group, the best, as in least toxic sunscreens on the market are ones without PABA, Parabens, Fragrances, Nanoparticles, Retinyl Palmitate (a form of Vitamin A), Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-3 (B-3) and Amino Benzoic Acid, whose side effects can include a host of health horrors which can effect your heart, hormones and even your DNA!
Buy the good stuff. The best sunscreen is a hat and a shirt. No chemicals to absorb through the skin, no questions about whether they work. But when you are going to be in the sun for long periods, use EWG’s top-rated sunscreens to provide broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB-sunburn) protection with fewer hazardous chemicals that penetrate the skin.
July 14th, 2011
By: Ethan A. Huff
A new report issued by the consumer protection organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) reveals that many popular sunscreens contain ingredients known to spur the growth and spread of skin cancer cells, which defeats their stated purpose of preventing skin cancer.
Data indicates that the sun’s rays combine with certain sunscreen ingredients in the skin and damage skin cells, which can lead to lesions and tumors — and worst of all, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allegedly been aware of this critical information for the past ten years, but has done absolutely nothing to warn people about it.
According to a report by AOL News, about half of the sunscreens tested contained vitamin A ingredients and derivatives like retinol and retinyl palmitate, which FDA’s own studies have shown are photocarcinogenic, meaning they become toxic when exposed to sunlight. In fact, an older FDA report explains that sunscreens containing vitamin A ingredients cause tumors and lesions to develop and spread 21 percent faster than sunscreens that do not contain vitamin A ingredients.
Not to be confused with the vitamin A found in food and supplements that is absolutely essential for good health, vitamin A additives in sunscreen are different — their interactions with ultraviolet sun rays actually produce carcinogens in the skin.
And yet the FDA continues to remain silent about the dangers of vitamin A in sunscreen, including in its recent updated sunscreen guidelines that make no mention of them.
“There was enough evidence ten years ago for FDA to caution consumers against the use of vitamin A in sunscreens,” said Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president for research, to AOL News. “FDA launched this one-year study, completed their research and now ten years later, they say nothing about it, just silence.”
When questioned by AOL News about the matter, an FDA spokeswoman responded by claiming the agency “thoroughly checked” its records and could not find any evidence of such a study. Apparently the agency did not look hard enough, though, because a report issued in 2000 by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) cites the same FDA research which found that vitamin A derivatives are both phototoxic and photocarcinogenic.
Vitamin A derivatives, of course, are not the only toxic ingredients in sunscreens either. According to the EWG report, hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone are prominent in many popular sunscreen brands. These same sunscreens also contain a slew of other mystery chemicals, many of which have never been proven safe or effective for use, and are likely carcinogenic as well.
In total, a mere 7.8 percent of the sunscreens tested by EWG as part of its annual analysis turned out to be “safe and effective” according to the group’s safety standards. The other 92.2 percent, which represent hundreds of sunscreens on the market today, contain one or more ingredients known to be harmful to health, a shocking figure when considering their widespread use.
As far as safe sunscreens go, EWG also recently released its fifth annual “Sunscreen Guide,” a database of more than 1,700 sun products from 292 brands that the group recognizes as having safe, non-toxic ingredients. You can access that database here: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/
For ideal health, however, regular exposure to sunlight without the use of sunscreen is vital for obtaining and maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D. Most sunscreens block the ultraviolet B (UVB) sun rays responsible for producing the vitamin D hormone in the skin — and without unfettered exposure to these beneficial rays, it is virtually impossible to maintain optimal vitamin D levels apart from supplementation.
By gradually exposing your skin to the sun on a regular, limited basis, you will eventually develop tolerance to it, even if you are prone to burning. And by supplementing with the antioxidant astaxanthin, which functions as a type of natural “sunscreen” that protects your skin from the oxidative damage caused by too much sun exposure, you will increase your sun tolerance even further, to the point that you may even stop burning under moderate exposure conditions.
The Vitamin D Council, a non-profit group dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of vitamin D for health, recommends that all individuals use the sun as their primary source of gaining vitamin D. Depending on your skin type, you will need anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour of daily sunlight exposure in order to achieve and maintain optimal levels.
If natural sunlight exposure is not feasible on a daily basis, which is common for most people during the wintertime when the sun’s decreased angle prevents an adequate amount of UVB rays from reaching the skin, daily supplementation with vitamin D3 is the next best option. The Council suggests taking anywhere between 1,000 and 6,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 a day, depending on your age.
To learn more about vitamin D, including which other vitamins and nutrients are its necessary cofactors, and which diseases and conditions can be treated and prevented simply by maintaining optimal levels, visit: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org
June 27th, 2011
By: Andrew Schneider
Almost half of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A or its derivatives, according to an evaluation of those products released today.
AOL News also has learned through documents and interviews that the Food and Drug Administration has known of the potential danger for as long as a decade without alerting the public, which the FDA denies.
The study was released with Memorial Day weekend approaching. Store shelves throughout the country are already crammed with tubes, jars, bottles and spray cans of sunscreen.
The white goop, creams and ointments might prevent sunburn. But don’t count on them to keep the ultraviolet light from destroying your skin cells and causing tumors and lesions, according to researchers at Environmental Working Group.
In their annual report to consumers on sunscreen, they say that only 39 of the 500 products they examined were considered safe and effective to use.
The report cites these problems with bogus sun protection factor (SPF) numbers:
- The use of the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone, which penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream.
- Overstated claims about performance.
- The lack of needed regulations and oversight by the Food and Drug Administration.
But the most alarming disclosure in this year’s report is the finding that vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate, may speed up the cancer that sunscreen is used to prevent.
A dangerous additive
The industry includes vitamin A in its sunscreen formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging.
But the EWG researchers found the initial findings of an FDA study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties, meaning the possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight.
“In that yearlong study, tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent faster in lab animals coated in a vitamin A-laced cream than animals treated with a vitamin-free cream,” the report said.
The conclusion came from EWG’s analysis of initial findings released last fall by the FDA and the National Toxicology Program, the federal government’s principle evaluator of substances that raise public health concerns.
EWG’s conclusions were subsequently scrutinized by outside toxicologists.
Based on the strength of the findings by FDA’s own scientists, many in the public health community say they can’t believe nor understand why the agency hasn’t already notified the public of the possible danger.
“There was enough evidence 10 years ago for FDA to caution consumers against the use of vitamin A in sunscreens,” Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president for research, told AOL News.
“FDA launched this one-year study, completed their research and now 10 years later, they say nothing about it, just silence.”
On Friday, the FDA said the allegations are not true.
“We have thoroughly checked and are not aware of any studies,” an FDA spokesperson told AOL News. She said she checked with bosses throughout the agency and found no one who knew of the vitamin A sunscreen research being done by or on behalf of the agency.
But documents from the FDA and the National Toxicology Program showed that the agency had done the research.
“Retinyl palmitate was selected by (FDA’s) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition for photo-toxicity and photocarcinogenicity testing based on the increasingly widespread use of this compound in cosmetic retail products for use on sun-exposed skin,” said an October 2000 report by the National Toxicology Program.
FDA’s own website said the animal studies were done at its National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Ark. And it was scientists from the FDA center and National Toxicology Program who posted the study data last fall.
In a perfect world
The ideal sunscreen would completely block the UV rays that cause sunburn, immune suppression and damaging free radicals. It would remain effective on the skin for several hours and not form harmful ingredients when degraded by UV light, the report said.
But in the U.S., there is currently no sunscreen that meets all of these criteria. European countries have more chemical combinations to offer, but in the U.S. the major choice is between the “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems, and “mineral” sunscreens zinc and titanium dioxide.
Increasingly, as AOL News reported in March, the industry is using titanium dioxide that is made nanosized, which a growing number of researchers believe have serious health implications.
The sunscreen industry cringes when EWG releases its yearly report — this is its fourth. The industry charges that the advocacy group wants to do away with all sunscreen products, a claim that is not accurate.
The report’s researchers clearly say that an effective sunscreen prevents more damage than it causes, but it wants consumers to have accurate information on the limitations of what they buy and on the potentially harmful chemicals in some of those products.
EWG does warn consumers not to depend on any sunscreen for primary protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Hats, clothing and shade are still the most reliable sun protection available, they say.
Don’t count on the numbers
Some of us are old enough to remember when the idea of having a tan was good, a sign of health, when billboards and magazine ads featured the Coppertone girl showing off her tan when a puppy pulls down her bathing suit bottom.
Going for that tan, we coated our kids and ourselves with sun blockers with sun protection factors of 1 or 2. Some overly cautious parents might have smeared on a 4 during the hottest part of a day.
But we’ve learned of the dangers that come from exposure to the sun’s rays, especially ultraviolet A and B. So today, drugstore shelves are crammed with sunscreens boasting SPFs of 30, 45, 80 or even higher.
However, the new report says those numbers are often meaningless and dangerous because products with high SPF ratings sell a false sense of security, encouraging people using them to stay out in the sun longer.
“People don’t get the high SPF they pay for,” the report says. “People apply about a quarter of the recommended amount. So in everyday practice, a product labeled SPF 100 really performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and an SPF 15 translates to 2.”
In 2007, the report says, the FDA published proposed regulations that would prohibit manufacturers from labeling sunscreens with an SPF higher than “SPF 50.” The agency wrote that higher values would be “inherently misleading,” given that “there is no assurance that the specific values themselves are in fact truthful.”
This is being widely ignored by the sunscreen makers who are heavily advertising their 80, 90 and 100 SPF products.
“Flouting FDA’s proposed regulation,” companies substantially increased their high-SPF offerings in 2010 with one in six brands now listing SPF values higher than 50. “Neutrogena and Banana Boat stand out among the offenders, with six and four products labeled as ‘SPF 100,’ respectively,” the new report says.
The full list of the best and worst sunscreens can be found on the EWG’s searchable database. (Update: The database has been loading slowly today. You may want to try it again later.)