We wear it to protect ourselves. Sunblock shields our skin from harmful UVA and UVB radiation, lessening our risk of developing skin cancer. But could what we use to protect ourselves actually contain chemicals that cause us harm?
Re-applied every hour (or more frequently) to our highly absorbable skin, sunblock has undoubtable impacts on our health. When we grease up and jump in the ocean, the chemicals contained in the lotions or sprays impact our environment as well.
FDA approved sunblock typically contains 15 chemical absorbers and physical filters like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Nine of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors and have implications for normal hormone functioning. The most commonly affected hormones are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, in addition to regular thyroid function. What does that mean for our bodies? Disruptions in these specific hormones can cause an early onset of puberty, including premature breast development in young women and low sperm count in men. They have also been linked to infertility, as well as breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.
According to a 2008 study by the CDC, 97% of Americans have traces of oxybenzone, a chemical found in sunscreen. Oxybenzone is commonly used to promote absorption of cosmetics and is successful in penetrating the skin, so much so that it is being found in mother’s breast milk. The chemical has implications for many aspects of health and is linked to endocrine disruptions, cellular damage and low birth weight in babies. In addition, oxybenzone has relatively high rates of skin allergies associated with its use.
Beyond our own health, the chemicals in sunblock have implications for our delicate ecosystems. A study highlighted by the journal Environmental Science and Toxicology suggests that the microscopic metals in sunscreen and other common cosmetic products cause changes in animals’ natural defense systems.
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