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The Sunscreen Myth

How sunscreens can actually promote cancer

The idea that sunscreen prevents cancer is nothing more than a myth promoted by industries seeking to make a profit at the risk of human suffering, according to, 15 June 2007.

How many people know that not getting enough sun kills many thousands of people from cancer every year in the US alone? asks the well known Dr Mercola of the USA.

The myth that the sun [sensibly used] is detrimental to your health and therefore sunscreen is necessary to guard against skin cancer is one of the most pervasive hoaxes in our society today, says Dr Mercola.

This myth can be traced back to the two industries that benefit the most – the cancer industry and the sunscreen manufacturers. These two giant profit-makers tag-team efforts which keep the unsuspecting public in a trance.

Not only do sunscreens promote cancer by blocking absorption of UV radiation and therefore vitamin D production, they also contain cancer-causing chemicals. A study in the Journal of Chromatography, April 2004, found that there is significant penetration into the skin of all of the four common sunscreen agents they studied.

So with most sunscreens, your body is absorbing synthetic chemicals, and with experts’ recommendations to apply generous amounts of the product every few hours, you will very likely be absorbing a fair amount. Some of the sunscreen chemicals are quite dangerous. Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), which is present in 90 percent of sunscreen brands [in the USA], was found to kill mouse cells even at low doses.

Sunburn should always be avoided, as should excessive exposure to the sun [especially in Australia], but there are natural ways to protect from sunburn without resorting to commercial sunscreens.

A far healthier option is boosting the skin’s ’internal sunscreen’ from within with effective antioxidants from whole fresh vegetables and fruits, especially goji berries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. Proper nutrition can make the skin naturally more resistant to sunburn, as well as to similar radiation damage to the eyes and optic nerves. Slathering on some aloe vera gel can also be helpful.

If you’re still hooked on the idea of a cream, continues Dr Mercola, there are safer natural sunscreen products that contain no petrochemicals [such as UV Natural which is available in Australia]. Remember that although these products are non-toxic, they still prevent the body from metabolising vitamin D, so use them with caution.

It is recommended to test your vitamin D levels to make sure you’re not deficient before resorting to sunscreen of any kind.



Skin cancer is a huge problem here in Australia. Consequently, we are pounded with advertising to always use sunscreen.

The higher the UV protection, the more chemical content in the bottle, which reinforces Dr Mercola’s advice to use only natural products if available.

Just the thought of all those ingredients listed on the bottle going onto the skin and then being warmed up in 40-degree Aussie sun, soaking through the fatty layers of the skin and then going to the liver might be enough to scare some people.

Reduce Your Risk of Cancer with Sunlight Exposure

Abridged from an article by William B Grant, PhD

If protection against UVR were the most important thing in preventing skin cancer, all humans would have very dark skin, since the melanin in dark skin protects against skin cancer and premature skin aging. However, skin pigmentation becomes paler the closer one’s ancestors lived to the polar-regions, evidently to balance the lower production of vitamin D where there is less sunlight.

Diet, chemicals and smoking are, of course, important risk factors for many types of cancer.

The key to understanding this geographic pattern was provided by researchers who studied the geographical distribution of solar radiation versus colon cancer mortality rates, and found that the more sunlight, the less cancer. They reasoned that sunlight, through the production of vitamin D, reduced the risk of colon cancer in the sunny areas compared to the darker areas.

Studies in the late 1990s found that other cancers for which ultraviolet B (UVB) and vitamin D are protective include breast, ovarian and prostate cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

For the technically minded, the natural form of vitamin D that circulates in the body is 25-hydroxyvitamin D, written as 25(OH)D.



The mechanisms by which vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer are fairly well understood. They include enhancing calcium absorption (in the case of colorectal cancer), inducing cell differentiation, increasing cancer-cell death (called apoptosis), reducing proliferation of cancer cells and reducing metastasis (spread of cancer in the body).

A recent study by Grant extended the list of cancers protected by vitamin D to a total of 16 types of cancer. Living in a rural area was also found to be protective for some cancers, which suggested that living in an urban environment is associated with reduced UVB exposure – and reduced vitamin D –compared to living in a rural environment.

After Dr Grant had made allowance for other factors associated with cancers – smoking, alcohol, race and poverty – he concluded that the protective role of sun-induced vitamin D is still very strong.


It was estimated that 45,000 Americans die from cancer annually due to inadequate levels of vitamin D: half from low­UVB doses based on location, and half based on living in urban environments with reduced solar radiation exposure. [In Australia we could be expected to fare much better with vitamin D levels because we have more sunlight.]

Studies continue to appear supporting the UVB/vitamin D-cancer connection. The latest (in 2004) was from Norway, showing that breast, colon and prostate cancers have a seasonal cycle related to vitamin D production by sunlight. This is particularly important research since it shows that vitamin D effectively fights cancer even in the later stages.



The amount of vitamin D – whether ingested or from UVB exposure – required for optimal protection against cancer is still being determined. This is complicated by the fact that each person responds differently to UVB.

Dietary vitamin D alone is insufficient to significantly reduce the risk of most cancers because the ingested amounts – up to 200 to 400 IU per day – are too low. Grant estimated that 600 to 1000 IU per day are required to reduce the risk of vitamin-D­sensitive cancers, except possibly prostate cancer.

The only way to determine an individual’s level of vitamin D is through blood tests arranged by a doctor. The current understanding is that serum 25(OH)D levels should be in the range of 30 to 40 ng/ml (75 – 100 nmol/L) for cancer prevention and optimal health. It should be noted that the UVB dose required to generate these levels is much less than would ordinarily be considered a risk factor for skin cancer.

The time required in the sun is probably 15 to 30 minutes per day with at least the hands and face exposed in the mid-latitudes during summer, but this does depend on a number of personal factors.

However, if solar UVB is not available, one has to rely on stored vitamin D (can last for weeks or months), dietary supplements or certain foods. (See ’Your Questions Answered’ in this issue.)

The informed individual can very likely reduce his or her risk of cancer and a number of other diseases by careful exposure to UVB – being particularly careful to avoid any sunburning – and ensuring an adequate intake overall of vitamin D.



William B Grant has a PhD in physics and has worked as senior research scientist in the field of atmospheric sciences in NASA. He is the author or co-author of over 60 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

He published the first paper linking diet to Alzheimer’s disease, and has studied the links between dietary sugars and heart disease and obesity, diet and breast, colon and prostate cancer, and UVB/vitamin D and cancer and autoimmune diseases. He recently founded the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center (SUNARC) where he continues his health research and educational efforts.

Abridged from releases by Dr Mercola, 19 June 2007, and,, 15 June 2007.

Note: Natural sunscreens are available through The Natural Health Society – check out our Online Store.

(Published Natural Health and Vegetarian Life, Spring 2007)