Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND
For years we’ve been taught that sunburns cause skin cancer and that sunscreens are protective. Did you know though that many agencies are now arguing that there is actually very little scientific evidence to prove that sunscreen prevents skin cancer, and that many ingredients in these products are quite harmful themselves? Though this may be very true, it’s most important to consider that a lack of evidence doesn’t prove ineffectiveness so that, simply put, it appears we simply lack the evidence to make an easy informed decision one way or the other. So what’s a parent to do?
Much of the debate may come down to the quality of the product ingredients. People are regularly dousing their skin with sunscreen products that contain known cancer-causing agents. It takes a bit of research to find a product that instead contains ingredients known to protect and heal the skin, such as zinc. The Environmental Working Group provides one of the few databases that evaluates these ingredients in particular brands. You can look up your own sunscreen brand, here. And one of my favourite parenting magazines, EcoParent, featured an opinion piece on the topic, available here.
Another significant factor in the cancer-sunscreen debate is that sunscreen use blocks the generation of vitamin D and can create a deficiency of this cancer-fighting vitamin in some people. For more information about measuring vitamin D levels and supplementing with vitamin D appropriately, please see some of our previous Integrated Roots issues, here.
Finally, we are what we eat. Cancer is a substantially multifactorial illness so that exposure to harmful chemicals or ultraviolet radiation is correlated to, but rarely causative of, cancer. Taking care of our bodies so that our immune systems are healthy and our skin barrier function is optimal, is key to preventing cancer. Keeping properly hydrated during hot days is one easy and very important way for us to maintain healthy skin and immune system function, to further reduce our cancer risk.
I do recommend using a high quality natural sunscreen product, free of known carcinogens, and inclusive of ingredients that support skin health. My two personal favourite brands include Badger and Green Beaver. Green Beaver is Canadian and you may find it helpful to know that the tube marketed for kids is actually the same product as the one marketed for adults. (If it’s not safe for kids then why would I put it on my own skin?) You can find this product at most quality health stores in Kingston.