Is Your Sunscreen Increasing Your Risk of Skin Cancer?

sunny-dayIt’s that time of year, when we all tend to spend more time in the sun.  We hit the beach and get outdoors more and our Vitamin D levels take a much-needed spike.  We’ve all been conditioned to keep our skin slathered in sunscreen to avoid skin cancer.

The question is, is that really necessary?


What’s the deal with UVA and UVB?

When I was a kid, my mom was a stickler about sunscreen.  We spent a week of every summer at the North Carolina coast and all I wanted to do was spend every possible moment frolicking in the sun, sand and surf.  My mom however, made us follow the “Safe Sun Rule”.  Yep, we took a forced break from the beach and sun from 11-2 every day because she insisted that the sun’s rays are most potent during that time.

She was partially right.  There are 2 different kinds of ultraviolet light from the sun.  UVB rays are the good ones, the ones we can make Vitamin D from and they are strongest during midday and in the summertime.  UVA rays are the deep penetrating rays that cause free radical damage and can lead to skin cancer.  UVA rays penetrate evenly regardless of what time of day or year it is.  So the “Safe Sun Rule” just keeps you out of the sun when you have the most potential to make Vitamin D.

The Key Players In Sunscreen

I totally appreciate my mom’s concern for my skin.  When she was young, there was little to no awareness about sun safety and she baked in the sun nonstop every summer.  She was trying to protect me from the damage she felt had already been done to her own skin.  But what she didn’t yet know was that the ingredients she was rubbing into my skin to protect me from the big, bad sun were far worse for me than the sun itself!

sun_protection640Most synthetic sunscreens with active ingredients like Octyl Methoxycinnamate and Oxybenzone only block the UVB rays, inhibiting your body’s production of Vitamin D, but not protecting you from skin cancer!  These toxic chemicals are harmful and often carcinogenic, cause hormone disruption and have been found to kill living cells.  Actually let me clarify.  Oxybenzone is not carcinogenic….UNTIL it’s exposed to sunlight.

It’s also important to steer clear of sunscreens that contain Vitamin A, which may be listed as “retinol” or “retinyl palmitate”.  The combination of Vitamin A and the sun can accelerate the development of skin tumors and yet it’s an ingredient in many synthetic sunscreens.

Vitamin D and Skin Cancer

Unprotected sun exposure is the only way that we make Vitamin D, which is essential to humans.  When you use sunscreen, you block the UVB rays of the sun that your body uses to make Vitamin D, but not the UVA rays that cause skin cancer.  Vitamin D supports your immune system, kidney function and cardiovascular health and helps you to build strong bones and muscles.

It might surprise you to know that having low levels of Vitamin D actually increases your risk of skin cancer.  One recent study found that melanoma survival rates were greater in patients who had more sun exposure.

The funny thing is that skin cancer rates haven’t really improved since the advent of sunscreen.  In fact, they’ve actually tripled in the last 35 years, giving further proof that sunscreens aren’t really doing the job we think they are.

What is much less advertised as a cause of skin cancer is our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.  In general, we consume far more omega-6 vegetable oils (from sources like canola, corn, safflower, soy, sunflower) than is healthy and not enough omega-3s.  When this ratio is unbalanced, there is an increased risk of developing cancer, especially skin cancer.    One study demonstrated that having the appropriate ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s helps to prevent cancer.

Let The Sun’s Rays Touch Your Skin!

sunbathingI always tried to sneak out into the sun without sunscreen to get just a few minutes of unprotected exposure before my mom found me out.  See, even at a young age, I yearned for the sun’s rays on my skin.  Not just because I wanted a killer tan, but I had some sort of imperceptible draw to the sun, as if I knew on some subconscious level that it was a source of nourishment.

So the bottom line is getting moderate unprotected sun exposure has far less risk than slathering your skin with chemical-filled sunscreens and may actually prove to be beneficial.

Recently skin maven, Nadine Artemis gave a talk at the Longevity Now Conference in which she emphatically states, “Sunburns are actually easier for our DNA to process than dealing with the cell damage of being in the sun with sunscreens.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending that you go out and spend hours unprotected in the sun.  You never want to let your skin burn from exposure to the sun.  That threshold is going to be different for everybody.  Some people are blessed with that olive skin that never burns.  I am not one of those people.  However, after conditioning my skin at the beginning of the season, I can tolerate a fair amount of sun exposure without burning.  My poor brother has that fair skin that comes with being a red-head and burns after an hour slathered with SPF 50.  Be sure to tailor your skin exposure to your personal skin type.

If you are on a beach vacation or you work outside for a living or  you are just going to be spending long periods of time in the sun, then please do protect yourself.  Wear protective clothes and hats and if necessary, use a SAFE sunscreen.  When you do use sunscreen, you want to look for sunscreens with the active ingredients Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide.  These are natural minerals that come from sediment in the earth.  I prefer Zinc Oxide to Titanium Dioxide.  You want to make sure the label says that they are non-nano.  Nano-particles are smaller in size than your pores so that they penetrate the skin and lungs very efficiently.    Here are two great all-natural sunscreens that I would recommend.  They both contain healthy, nourishing oils and non-nano zinc oxide.


Badger Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30

SPF 35 Organic Sunscreen by Kabana


I repeat, do NOT let yourself burn.  If your skin is more than a tiny bit red, you’ve stopped making Vitamin D and are doing severe free radical damage to your skin.

Some All-Natural Sunscreen Ideas:

Coconut Oil - I have recently read several accounts of using coconut oil as a sunscreen.  Coconut oil has a natural SPF of 2-8.  Get coconut oil here

Carrot Seed Oil or Red Raspberry Seed Oil – Try adding some Carrot Seed Oil (natural SPF 38-40) or Red Raspberry Seed Oil (natural SPF 28-50) to a natural lotion made with healthy oils (coconut oil would be a bonus).  Get Carrot Seed Oil here.

Aloe Vera – reflects 20% of the sun’s rays.

Krill Oil, Astaxanthin, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E - taken internally have been known to lessen sun absorption


Here’s a recap.


  • Let the sun touch your skin so that your body can make Vitamin D to help protect you from skin cancer
  • Choose sunscreens with natural active ingredients like (non-nano) Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide
  • Ensure that the inactive ingredients are all safe and nourishing for your skin – think coconut oil, aloe, shea butter, beeswax, essential oils.  Look at the ingredient labels of the 2 sunscreens I’ve recommended above to get an idea of what to look for.


  • allow yourself to burn
  • consume processed omega-6 oils from canola, corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower.
  • choose sunscreens that contain these synthetic ingredients:

Octyl Methoxycinnamate







The sun has been my faithful lover for millions of years. Whenever I offer my body to him, brilliant light pours from his heart. Thousands then notice my happiness and delight in pointing toward my beauty.  - Hafiz


This post is linked to Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager and Sunday School at Butter Believer.

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.  I am a scientist and householder.  Please do not replace advice from a doctor or medical professional with information found on this site.