What’s the deal with sunscreen, really?

As summer approaches and the weather warms up, the sun’s rays grow stronger and people are bringing out their sunscreen. I am too. This year, when the sun finally appeared, I immediately got sunburned on my shoulders. I soon realized I didn’t have any sunscreen at home, so I picked up my phone to research…

Lovisa Paulsdotter Avatar

As summer approaches and the weather warms up, the sun’s rays grow stronger and people are bringing out their sunscreen. I am too. This year, when the sun finally appeared, I immediately got sunburned on my shoulders. I soon realized I didn’t have any sunscreen at home, so I picked up my phone to research which sunscreen would be the best choice. As I was scrolling, I came across an article that caught my attention. It claimed that sunscreen might not be as beneficial as everyone is led to believe. Although ever since I was little, I’ve been told how important it is to protect your skin with sunscreen but now someone was saying the exact opposite. I kept researching and quickly got stuck in a rabbit hole of debates about sunscreen. It made me wonder: What’s the deal with sunscreen, really?

How does sunscreen work?

There are two types of UV filters used in sunscreens: physical and chemical. Physical filters are made of natural mineral particles that reflect the sun’s rays away from the skin. Chemical filters absorb the UV radiation and convert it into harmless radiation.

Are the chemicals in sunscreen harmful?

Here comes my first dilemma. Different doctors and scientists claim different things. Most scientists seem to agree that the chemicals in sunscreen are absorbed into our bodies. Many studies have found these chemicals in our bloodstream. However, scientists disagree on whether this is harmful. Some say we don’t know if it is harmful or that no studies have proven otherwise. Others claim these chemicals may act as hormone disruptors. A hormone disruptor is a chemical that can cross cell membranes and interfere with your body’s natural hormone production. One commonly discussed chemical is oxybenzone. Some scientists even suggest that these hormone disruptors may cause cancer. A few studies indicate that potentially carcinogenic chemicals develop when sunscreen has passed its expiration date. On the other hand, many studies on sunscreen have been conducted on rats exposed to extreme amounts of it. It goes without saying, research on sunscreen is lacking. We simply don’t know yet which is a definite cause for concern, at least for me.

Does sunscreen protect against skin cancer, including malignant melanoma?

This is yet another dilemma of mine. Once again, different scientists have varying opinions. We know that the number of people developing skin cancer is rising and we know that the sun is the cause. Squamous cell carcinoma is the type increasing the most, while the most serious type is malignant melanoma. The number of malignant melanoma cases has steadily risen over several decades and last year, well over 5,000 people in Sweden alone were diagnosed with it. Many scientists assert that sunscreen protects against all three of the most common skin cancers: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. They say the level of protection sunscreen provides is directly related to the extent to which ultraviolet radiation contributes to skin cancer formation. However, other scientists argue that sunscreen only protects against sunburn and that there are no definitive studies showing it prevents malignant melanoma.

Is sunscreen bad for the environment?

This I find interesting because I’ve never really thought about it before. We apply sunscreen before going to the beach and then these chemicals get into the water when we swim in the ocean. It makes sense that this would affect marine life. This is actually something many scientists seem to agree on. These chemicals can contaminate marine mammals, seabirds, fish and corals. Pollution from chemical sunscreens in the environment can reduce resilience to climate change events and contribute to reproductive impairment, potentially leading to local extinction in a matter of generations by inducing sterility and reproductive failure. Popular holiday destinations such as Hawaii, Mexico and Key West in Florida have even banned chemical sunscreens. The ban aims to preserve local biodiversity and ecosystems, helping them to flourish and remain healthy. So, maybe we do need to think twice before choosing our sunscreen?

How can you stay safe while spending time in the sun?

The first step to staying safe from the sun is to limit your exposure. Don’t rely solely on sunscreen when spending time outdoors. Sunscreen should be seen as a complement, as we don’t know exactly how well it protects us. People who use sunscreen often stay out in the sun longer, potentially increasing their risk of skin cancer. Your best strategy is to avoid sun exposure when possible and seek shade. When you do wear sunscreen, be sure to reapply it throughout the day and use a generous amount. The effectiveness of chemical sunscreen diminishes over time and most sunscreens tend to sweat off. Experts also recommend sun-protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat or a long-sleeve shirt. If you still want to spend time in the sun, limit it to about 20-30 minutes per day. And be careful not to burn yourself!

What’s the deal with sunscreen, really?

To be completely honest, I have no idea. There are endless answers and aspects to this question. I am no scientist but needless to say, we need more research on sunscreen. Millions of people worldwide use it every day, yet we still don’t know that much about it. However, we do know that the sun’s rays can be harmful to our skin and therefore we need to protect it. Whether you use sunscreen or not, I still advise using other forms of protection and avoiding excessive sun exposure.

Some sources if you want to learn more about sunscreen

https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/is-sunscreen-safe

https://www.people4ocean.com/blogs/blog/7-holiday-destinations-that-have-banned-chemical-sunscreens

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-science-of-sunscreen

https://time.com/6290923/is-sunscreen-safe

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190722-sunscreen-safe-or-toxic

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Founded in 1948 and has since been an important part of student life in the economics program at Lund University. Nådiga Lundtan covers a wide range of topics related to economics, society, and politics, as well as careers, entrepreneurship, and innovation. It is a platform for students to share their ideas and opinions on economics and related fields.

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