By Dr. Mercola
Cosmetics giant Neutrogena, whose parent company Johnson & Johnson has allowed the use of potentially cancer-causing chemicals in their products (and only announced in August 2012 that they would be removing them by the end of 2015), has taken on an unlikely new partner: The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS).
To educate Canadians about reducing their risk of skin cancer, which will undoubtedly include the potentially harmful advice to slather on loads of sunscreen (preferably Neutrogena brand).
In addition to Neutrogena contributing $200,000 to support skin cancer research (over $1 million since this started), the company has even provided 200,000 sunscreen samples to be distributed at Cancer Society events and committed to executing “a national campaign to educate Canadians on the importance of using sunscreen.”1
For Neutrogena, it’s a marketing match made in heaven … but what does this mean for the public?
You can’t respect the advice that CCS provides on sun exposure, as it has been tainted by their relationship with for-profit partner Neutrogena. This is a direct conflict of interest.
A scathing 2011 CBC investigative report in Canada even found that the proportion of funding that the CCS spends on research projects has been cut in half, dropping to 22% from over 40% in 2000. Funds have been diverted from research to be used for fundraising.2
This means for every dollar donated by Canadians to the CCS, only 22 cents actually goes to research. Pitiful … and one of the lowest rates for all charitable foundations in Canada.
More Misleading Sunscreen Propaganda That May Increase Your Cancer Risk
You’ve heard the advice before: stay out of the sun or use plenty of sunscreen to block cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) rays. But recommending that people stay out of the sun to avoid cancer is much like saying you should avoid eating, because some foods cause cancer. It’s true that excessive sun exposure, the type that makes your skin burn, may increase your cancer risk.
But all sun exposure is certainly not bad. In fact, it’s actually an essential component to staying healthy … one that can even reduce your cancer risk substantially.
And therein lies one of the chief problems with the misleading advice to use sunscreen whenever you’re out in the sun. This blocks the beneficial UVB rays – the ones that trigger your skin to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in your overall health and well-being. If you’ve spent any time on my site at all, you know that I’m a firm advocate for optimizing your vitamin D levels. For example, this healthy exposure to sunshine is known to:
Protect against cancer, including melanoma Support healthy kidney function Enhance your muscle strength Promote healthy teeth Help produce and maintain optimal blood pressure levels Help keep your bones strong and healthy Help maintain a healthy immune system Support your cardiovascular health
Sun Exposure May Lower Your Cancer Risk
Several studies have already confirmed that appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent skin cancer. In fact, melanoma occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure and can be increased by sunscreens. For example, an Italian study, published in the European Journal of Cancer,3 supported earlier studies showing improved survival rates in melanoma patients who were exposed to sunlight more frequently in the time before their melanoma was diagnosed. In Public Health Nutrition, researchers also listed a number of associations between sun exposure and melanoma found in the medical literature, such as:4
- Intermittent sun exposure and severe sunburn in childhood are associated with an increased risk of melanoma
- Occupational exposure, such as farmers and fishermen, and regular weekend sun exposure are associated with decreased risk of melanoma
- Sun exposure appears to protect against melanoma on skin sites not exposed to sun light, and melanoma occurring on skin with large UV exposure has the best prognosis
- Patients with the highest blood levels of vitamin D have thinner melanoma and better survival prognosis than those with the lowest vitamin D levels
The fact is, getting safe sun exposure every day is actually one of the best things you can do for your health. The point to remember is that once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink (if you’re Caucasian), it’s time to get out of the sun. Past this point of exposure your body will not produce any more vitamin D and you’ll begin to have sun damage.
Shocking News: Dermatologists Actually State Sunlight is Not an “Efficient” Source of Vitamin D
A news release from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)5 claims to “expose” the “truth” about the indoor tanning industry by dispelling their statement that indoor tanning is a good source of vitamin D. It is, in fact, a good source, assuming you cannot get outdoors for real sun exposure, and you use a safe tanning bed (which I’ll explain in the next section). Outrageously, AAD states:
” … dermatologists point out that UV rays are not very efficient in creating vitamin D in the skin. In addition, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that the public obtain vitamin D safely from a healthy diet that includes food naturally rich in vitamin D, foods and beverages fortified with vitamin D, and/or dietary supplements, rather than by sun exposure or indoor tanning, which can cause skin cancer.”
How could they possibly claim that UV rays are not efficient in creating vitamin D in the skin when under optimal environmental exposures your body can produce about 20,000 IU of vitamin D per day with full body exposure, about 5,000 IU with 50 percent of your body exposed, and as much as 1,000 IU with just 10 percent of your body exposed?
In the winter months however, and/or times of the year when insufficient amounts of UVB rays reach your location, you will most likely not get enough vitamin D. In that case, I recommend using a safe tanning bed.
While you can obtain vitamin D from natural food sources or in supplement form, sunlight is by far the best way to get your vitamin D. Our ancestors optimized their vitamin D levels by sun exposure, not by swallowing it in foods. Although vitamin D is in some animal foods, it is in relatively low quantities and to my knowledge there are no known ancestral populations that thrived on oral vitamin D sources. Although we can absorb vitamin D orally because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, there is strong emerging research that suggests this lacks many of the benefits of sunlight-produced vitamin D.
Plus, you cannot overdose when getting your vitamin D from sun exposure or a safe tanning bed, as your body has the ability to self-regulate production and only make what it needs; this is not the case with oral supplementation.
I recently did an interview with MIT Scientist Dr. Seneff who strongly believes that the majority of vitamin D’s benefit is due to the sunlight hitting the skin and forming cholesterol and vitamin D sulfate, which mediate the vast majority of the benefits of vitamin D above. Vitamin D levels may not actually produce these benefits but could be a marker for the other changes that occur as a result of exposing your skin to sunshine. This is why swallowing a pill is not as beneficial as exposing your skin to sunshine.
Tanning Beds Falsely Under Attack?
In a 2012 review of the available research into the relative risk for malignant melanoma (the most lethal form of skin cancer) and tanning bed use, the researchers concluded that tanning bed use can decrease 10 times as many cancers than they might contribute to.6
While the AAD cited data that indicate the use of tanning beds before the age of 35 is associated with a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma, mainstream media ignores the fact that this is the relative risk ratio. Your absolute risk of getting skin cancer from a tanning bed is less than three-tenths of one percent—and even then, this is likely only if you habitually overexpose yourself!7 And remember this data was for unsafe tanning beds, not the ones we encourage to use for alternative sun exposure.
In addition, Dr. William Grant, Ph.D., internationally recognized research scientist and vitamin D expert, wrote a paper criticizing the reported link between tanning bed use and melanoma, as one major meta-analysis by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) used studies done in countries that had a disproportionate mix of skin type 1 people, which would raise the risk rate.8
Where tanning beds are concerned, there is some conflicting research, however, with some studies finding no detrimental impact from tanning beds on skin cancer rates while others have found that rates of skin cancer are higher in those using tanning beds than those who do not tan. The reason for these conflicting findings, the review authors speculated, could very well be due to differences in UVA/UVB ratios and intensities between different types of tanning beds.
I believe they’re likely correct in their speculation that the type of tanning bed may be a major factor in whether or not it can have a beneficial or detrimental impact on your cancer risk. Certain tanning beds have less of the dangerous UVA than sunlight, while others emit more UVA than sunlight, and it is the UVA rays, which penetrate your skin more deeply than UVB, that appear to be a much more important factor in causing photoaging, wrinkles and skin cancers. In fact, the UVB rays are capable of stimulating melanocytes within the skin to produce entirely new melanin as “sunscreen,” whereas UVA rays only cause the oxidation of already existing melanin and its precursors, resulting in greater photo-damage to the exposed cells.9
Another important factor when selecting a tanning bed is the type of ballast it employs, to avoid excessive electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure. Most tanning units use magnetic ballasts to generate light. These magnetic ballasts are well known sources of EMFs that can contribute to cancer.
If you hear a loud buzzing noise while in a tanning bed, it has a magnetic ballast system. I strongly recommend you avoid magnetic ballast beds, and restrict your use of tanning beds to those that use electronic ballasts. High-quality indoor tanning devices can be beneficial if you precisely follow the simple guideline of never getting burned. Your skin should only turn the lightest shade of pink after using them.
The FDA also recommends waiting 24-48 hours between doses. The reason for this is that it takes at least 24 hours for the erythema to go away. This exposure schedule can be described as CONTROLLED SUNSHINE, making it a very safe way to receive the benefits of the sun while indoors. The Joint Canadian Tanning Association often uses this explanatory quote from Dr. Reinhold Vieth:
“Dr. Reinhold Vieth from Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto said this about sunlight and tanning beds in a court affidavit; “sunbeds and summer sunshine are effective means by which to increase our serum 25(OH)D levels. The advantage of a tanning bed is that exposure to UV light can be controlled more precisely than casual sun exposure and thus can be safer than advising the public to guess at their own sun exposure from sunlight.”
Is Sunscreen Ever Necessary?
The answer is certainly yes, but only when you can’t control how much sun you are exposed to. For instance, if you work outdoors all day as part of your job, or if you need to protect sensitive areas of your face, like around your eyes, that are particularly susceptible to photoaging and not that large a surface area to impact vitamin D levels if blocked with sunscreen.
I personally prefer wearing a cap to put my face in the “shade.” This also eliminates the need for me to wear sunglasses and deprive my retina of all the healthy wavelengths of the sun. Additionally, the surface area of the skin on your face is relatively small and is not a significant producer of vitamin D, and it is also more susceptible to photoaging damage. So if you aren’t willing to wear a cap or hat and keep your eyes in the shade then I would recommend using a safe sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damage.
But you certainly don’t want to use most of the commercially available sunscreens under any condition, as they typically contain concerning toxic chemicals.
Last year, researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report that found nearly 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 and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate.10 According to EWG’s findings, 56 percent of sunscreens also contain oxybenzone, which is believed to cause hormone disruptions and the type of cell damage that can provoke cancer.
Interestingly, research has also shown that the regular use of tanning beds and the regular use of sunscreen had the same risk association for melanoma.11,12 Yet, if you ask the average person on the street what has a higher skin cancer risk, sunbeds or sunscreen use, they will virtually always say tanning beds. The higher risk of melanoma with sunscreen use has not been properly reported by the media or by the health authorities the general public relies on. We have been brainwashed into thinking that regular sunscreen use is quite safe!
For times when you do need sun protection, sunscreens available in most health food stores are often safe to use when the need arises – but for most of you who spend a great deal of your time indoors, the question isn’t how to get less sunlight but how to get enough.
Earlier this year, I compiled the most comprehensive details that I know of that will allow you to optimize your vitamin D levels by natural sun exposure.
I would strongly encourage you to have your blood level checked to confirm that your sun exposure is putting you in the right level. If it isn’t, or if sun exposure or safe tanning bed use is not a practical option for you, then you should consider supplementing with oral vitamin D3. (You want to avoid vitamin D2, as it is clearly inferior to D3.) The following chart shows the therapeutic levels of vitamin D you’ll want to reach and maintain.
Antioxidants Can Also Help Protect Your Skin From the Sun
Consuming antioxidants (and also potentially applying them topically) such as carotenoids and catechins (naturally occurring antioxidants found in tea) is one of the most overlooked forms of natural sun protection available. Carotenoids, for instance, are critical to the photosynthetic process and protect a plant or organism from damage by light and oxygen. By consuming plants or organisms that contain these pigments, you gain a similar protective benefit. In a sense, they are creating your own “internal sunscreen.” Studies have shown that consuming antioxidants may:
- Prevent UVA light-induced oxidative stress13
- Protect against alterations in human DNA induced by UVA light exposure14
- Help prevent photoaging of the skin (as measured by markers for skin damage)15
Although the exact pathway by which antioxidants help protect your skin from burning is not yet known, it is almost certain that anti-inflammatory properties are involved, as sunburn is actually an inflammatory process. So consuming a healthy diet full of natural antioxidants is an incredibly useful strategy to help avoid sun damage to your skin. In addition to the benefits noted above, fresh, raw, unprocessed foods deliver the nutrients that your body needs to maintain a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 oils in your skin, which is your first line of defense against sunburn. Fresh, raw vegetables also provide your body with an abundance of powerful antioxidants that will help you fight the free radicals caused by sun damage that can lead to burns and cancer.