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Wait . . . WHAT? Sunlight Prevents Cancer???

Affiliate Disclosure | in Natural Remedies | by | with 88 Comments

[info_box] Note from Mommypotamus: I realize that some people who read this have experienced the pain and difficulty of skin cancer, either personally or with a loved one. I would never dare to invalidate these experiences or to treat them lightly. It is my hope that by providing this research, which is based off the work of a senior MIT scientist and a former cancer and DNA research scientist, I will make a compelling case for re-examining our cultural attitudes about sunlight.   I am not a doctor and I do not advocate sunburns at all, but it is my opinion that responsible sunlight exposure positively affects our health when a good diet with plenty of healthy fats/ antioxidants are present. My writing reflects a commitment to that lifestyle. Comments are welcome no matter your opinion, but please show kindness to one another.[/info_box]

I Confess, I Haven’t Seen . . .

The Today Show in years. But if I remember correctly spring goes something like this:

  1. Parade a bunch of $600 pairs of shoes out as the fresh new look of the season. Inspire women everywhere to wear knockoffs.
  2. Compliment the model, who will no doubt have dewy lips and a gorgeous tan.
  3. Bring out an expert waving a tube of sunblock and warning of the dangers of skin cancer.
  4. Break to commercial for sunless tanning lotion

Why do we want to be tan so badly? I think we are drawn to the healthy glow of sun-kissed skin for the same reason men tend to be drawn to certain body types in women: our instincts recognize indicators of good health even when it’s contrary to what the “experts” say. We agree with them in our minds, dutifully slather on SPF45, then run out and spend our money on dyes to make it tan again!

Let’s stop the madness. In moderate amounts sunlight is beneficial and may even prevent cancer. 

No Really, I’m Serious

“Insufficient exposure to ultraviolet radiation may be an important risk factor for cancer in Western Europe and North America, according to a new study published in the prominent Cancer journal that directly contradicts official advice about sunlight.

The research examined cancer mortality in the United States. Deaths from a range of cancers of the reproductive and digestive systems were approximately twice as high in New England as in the southwest, despite a diet that varies little between regions.

An examination of 506 regions found a close inverse correlation between cancer mortality and levels of ultraviolet B light. The likeliest mechanism for a protective effect of sunlight is vitamin D, which is synthesized by the body in the presence of ultraviolet B.”

Cancer Journal, 94:1867-75 (emphasis mine)

Here’s what you need to know about this study: Sunlight reduced the instance of some of the deadliest cancers, such as breast, colon and prostate. In another study, clinical laboratory scientist Dennis Mangan concluded “This is like the Holy Grail of cancer medicine; vitamin D produced a drop in cancer rates greater than that for quitting smoking, or indeed any other countermeasure in existence.”

But What About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers?

According to several studies low vitamin D status may actually contribute to the development of melanoma and other cancers.

“[P]atients with malignant melanoma exhibit low levels of vitamin D3 in their blood [this study notes that the those who had the lowest levels developed metastatic disease faster], and . . . others have a problem with the receptor for vitamin D. (Hutchinson et al. 2000; Green et al. 1983) The incidence of melanoma of the skin on sites of the body intermittently exposed to sunlight is reduced among outdoor workers compared with indoor workers. (Elwood et al. 1985)

All of this points to a protective role for vitamin D against cancer in general, and melanoma in particular. But the final nail in the coffin of the “sunlight causes melanoma” hypothesis is this:

A comprehensive review of research studies from 1966 through 2003 failed to show any association between melanoma and sunscreen use! (Dennis et al. 2003)

Say what? Sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer, that’s what.”

Chris Kresser, Medicine for the 21st Century

 

But You Know What It Might Do? Cause Cancer!

It’s ironic, I know, but:

“It is a little-known fact that many of the most popular sunscreen chemicals break down into useless (at best) or carcinogenic and environmentally hazardous (at worst).

Some chemicals to watch out for, since most of them are carcinogenic, break down into things that are, or generally just damage the body in other ways: just about anything with “benzo” in the name, PAB and PABA and their esters, cinoxate, ethylhexyl, p-methoxycinnamate, salicylates such as ethylhexyl salicyclate, homosalate, and octyl salicyclate, digalloyl trioleate (doesn’t that just sound nasty?), menthyl anthranilate, and propylene glycol.

Wait, isn’t glycol antifreeze?

Yes.

Yes, it is.

What’s funny about antifreeze (Pardon me, “humectant”.) found in sunscreen is that all the safety hazard sheets will tell you, regarding propylene glycol, to avoid contact with skin–and that it can cause liver abnormalities.

And that if it is spilled, and an animal takes a lick of it, it will kill them.

Is this really something you want on your skin?”

Sunscreen Causes Cancer, Why Dance Around The Facts? (emphasis mine)

And here’s a fun fact from the London Sunday Times:

“The main chemical used in sun lotions to filter out ultraviolet light may be TOXIC, particularly when exposed to sunshine.”¹

Now, I’m not saying that sunscreen is directly responsible for the development of melanoma or any other particular cancers, but the slew of chemicals it contains have been shown to contribute to cancer. These chemicals don’t sit simply coat our skins, says clinical laboratory scientist Elizabeth Plourde. “Sunscreen is detected in the blood in five minutes and within hours it’s detected in the liver, kidneys, spleen, testicles and the brain. So we absorb it and it’s going into all our organs.”

And what do we have to show for it? In the last 40 years sunscreen use has increased by 30%, but at the same time skin cancer rates nearly quadrupled in parts of our population? “[If] sunscreen is meant to protect us, with its astounding popularity, one would think the skin cancer rates would at least stabilize, if not decrease,” right? ²

Convinced? Let’s Talk Solutions

Obviously sunlight is vital for health, but those skyrocketing skin cancer numbers are scary, too. What’s causing them? Coming up in this series we’ll discuss theories about how oxidation works on a traditional diet vs. a Standard American Diet, why most “healthy” sunscreens contain ingredients that cause DNA deletions in mice, common sense sun safety, and how antioxidants may prevent sunburn.  Stay tuned!

Do you think sunscreen prevents cancer? Why or why not?

Recommended Reading:

“Be wary of plastering yourself with sunscreen: not only may it be ineffective in filtering our UVA and UVB rays, it may be carcinogenic and also cause irreparable damage to aquatic environments.

Medical researcher and clinical laboratory scientist Elizabeth Plourde, PhD, has over 25 years’ experience in medical research including in cancer, genetics and endocrinology. In Sunscreens – Biohazard, inspired by a trip to sun soaked Hawaii and her reaction to bleached corals, she brings her scientific knowledge to bear on just how disruptive the chemicals in sunscreens really are. Read the full review here . . .

Other resources:

AOL News: Study Says Many Sunscreens May Be Accelerating Cancer

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and this site does not provide medical advice. Please see my full disclaimer here.

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88 Responses to Wait . . . WHAT? Sunlight Prevents Cancer???

  1. Erica says:

    I am a natural skeptic about things of this nature. My father has had skin cancer. He tells me about having a sunburn all summer long and never thinking anything about it as a child. I am fair skinned and burn very easily. I used to slather on sunscreen. Now I tend to do more covering up then using sunscreen, unless I am at the beach or pool. I wear a large hat and a cool loose fitting long-sleeved button down shirt. I have a baby now and I am concerned about his sun exposure as well as vitamin D deficiency. As of now I keep him in the shade, but I will be making my own sunscreen. To all of the naysayers I have been doing some research about the links between and antioxidant rich diet and skin cancer. Here are a couple of peer reviewed articles.

    http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v65/n4/pdf/5617180a.pdf
    http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/15586237/reload=0;jsessionid=E7oFHzGAtznIucx3P4UF.8

    Heather, thank you for constantly forcing me to ask new questions! I enjoy your blog

  2. Safe Sun Tips and Sunscreen Guide 2013 - Natural Living Mamma says:

    […] “Insufficient exposure to ultraviolet radiation may be an important risk factor for cancer in Western Europe and North America, according to a new study published in the prominent Cancer journal that directly contradicts official advice about sunlight.The research examined cancer mortality in the United States. Deaths from a range of cancers of the reproductive and digestive systems were approximately twice as high in New England as in the southwest, despite a diet that varies little between regions.An examination of 506 regions found a close inverse correlation between cancer mortality and levels of ultraviolet B light. The likeliest mechanism for a protective effect of sunlight is vitamin D, which is synthesized by the body in the presence of ultraviolet B.Cancer Journal, 94:1867-75 (emphasis mine)” Read her whole article here. […]

  3. Erin says:

    I am not intending to argue that there are no scary sounding or possibly harmful chemicals in sunscreen, however some of the statements that you make regarding propylene glycol are incorrect or misleading at best. I am sure you are not intending this, so I wanted to comment so that the corrections can be made. Yes, propylene glycol is used in antifreeze, however the toxic antifreeze that will kill your cat or dog is ethylene glycol, not propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is not considered toxic and is approved for use in food applications. You may even have some in your cabinet in the form of imitation food flavorings-vanilla, rum, etc, or in store bought salad dressing. Anything you look up in MSDS will sound harmful. Even NaCl(common table salt) will kill you if you eat too much. And the lethal dose of table salt(oral LD50 for rat is 3,000mg/kg) is actually lower than the lethal dose of propylene glycol(oral LD50 for rat is 22,000mg/kg). Also, an antifreeze is a substance that lowers the freezing point of a substance. Humectant is a substance that reduces the loss of moisture. A chemical can have both properties, as propylene glycol does, but humectant is not a “nice” word to cover up the fact that it is an antifreeze. In fact, ethylene glycol (the toxic antifreeze) is also used as a dessicant which is the opposite of a humectant.

  4. Sonia says:

    As someone who has been through chemo and radiation, I have a higher than average risk of developing skin cancer. Because of this, I am very careful about getting lots of good sunlight exposure (avoiding much time between noon and 2 and being very cautious about sunburning). When I or my husband or daughter are going to be spending extended time in the sun, we use Lavanila Baby Block which is chemical free and chock full of excellent botanicals. The couple of times that we have run out, we have used coconut oil with great success (it is the second ingredient in the Lavanila sunblock, so I guess that makes sense!) :)
    Thank you for this article! It’s good to see a little more common sense about sun exposure!

  5. I Don’t Wear Sunscreen and Would Never Put it on My Daughter | Bare Natural Mommy says:

    […] D. Low Vitamin D may contribute to cancers and melanoma. More information on Vitamin D here. Mommypotamus does excellent research. It was her blog, that got me re-evaluating my sunscreen […]

  6. ellen says:

    See the TED talk on utube by Richard Weller. He is a dermatologist who has discovered that the lower your sun exposure, the more likely you will develop heart disease. It’s very interesting! Those slathered with sunscreen are doing a disservice to their hearts, not to mention that those who are always covered in sunscreen are more likely to develop melanoma than those who get regular sun exposure. Sun exposure is pt the same thing as getting a burn.

  7. Coconut Oil for Sun Protection Hybrid Rasta Mama says:

    […] here. You can also read a little further to learn why sunlight actually prevents cancer by clicking here. And to further enlighten you, here is one more article which outlines the pros and cons of […]

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