Warm rays from our largest star may not be to blame for the increase in skin cancer, after all. Rather, “Slip, Slop, Slap” – the instructional mantra begun in the 1980s, on how to avoid potential death by sunshine.
Since the birth of media advertising, generations have been assigned catch phrases like Kelloggs’ “Snap, Crackle, Pop” or Mc Gruff the Dog’s “Stop, Drop & Roll,” but scientific research may now give people reason to question The American Cancer Society’s advice and skip the slather.
Californians, in particular, share a fondness for the sun, and more Americans are increasingly relying on sunscreen to protect themselves and their children from what has been touted a melanoma epidemic. News to most consumers, though, is that the sunscreen they may rely on to prevent cancer could be causing it.
Independent research organizations have continued to publish more findings to support the organic science community’s fear that carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals are not only found in hundreds of cosmetic products, but also in our water sources, gaining them attention from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Earlier this year the CDC published results of its own study revealing that an estimated 97 percent of Americans ages 6 and older are contaminated with the carcinogen oxybenzone, a chemical linked to cancer, hormone disruption and birth defects. Women and girls had higher amounts of oxybenzone in their systems, likely because they use more body care products. Even more disturbing was that the chemical was still present in all of the participants’ urine even several days later.
Oxybenzone is also used in cosmetic products – including lotions – to help ingredients penetrate the skin. This and other toxic chemicals found in sunscreens and other products have been linked to migraines, severe PMS and breast and uterine cancer in women, as well as lower sperm counts, breast enlargement, below normal penis size and testicular cancer in men, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit research organization based in Washington D.C.
Sunscreen proves especially harmful when applied to children, as their skin to body ratio is so much larger than an adult. Children also have a greater risk of inhaling the chemicals and absorbing them into their system by rubbing their eyes or mouth.
Parents of children attending preschool have complained that even after direct orders were given not to apply sunscreen, the toddler smelled of the lotion on days they had played outdoors, but any objections to the teacher about the ritual were met with the same reaction as saying, “Our family does not believe in using seat belts.”
Environmentalists are concerned that sunscreen, washed off the body during bathing or swimming, endangers wildlife and pollutes drinking water. Ultimately, the chemicals from bathing end up in sewage plants where wastewater treatment is able to remove only a small amount of the toxins found in most cosmetic products. Treated water is then returned to fresh water channels.
Where is the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) when it comes to monitoring what is safe for the public? Historically, the FDA – formed after Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, a book exposing unsanitary meat-packing plants in 1906 – seems to act as a responder only after sickness or death attracts public attention,
Governmental agencies should not be considered the inerrant authority on public safety, says Dr. Joseph Mercola of the National Health Center of Illinois, adding that the medical community has made serious mistakes in the past. He refers to a national advertising campaign in the 1940s and 1950s in which several thousand doctors endorsed smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes as a healthful activity. Also, during the same time period, the psychiatric industry was performing lobotomies as a way to manage people with mental disorders. And, more recently, evidence continues to mount that aspartame, a sugar substitute found in most drinks and foods labeled sugar-free, should be listed as a potential health hazard, but is not.
The FDA has failed miserably to inform the public about the potential hazards of allowing toxic chemicals to be used on humans, states Mercola, adding that currently on the urgent list is the safety of toxic chemicals found in most cosmetics.
The latest scientific research on sunscreen ingredients was filed in the late 1970s by the FDA. Since that time they have allowed the cosmetic industry to set their own standards for what is or is not safe for public use.
“Image is what the cosmetics industry sells through its products, and it’s up to the consumer to believe the claims or not,” said John Bailey, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, in response to questioning as to whether cosmetic products labels are true.
The FDA has no authority to police the cosmetics industry, and manufacturers of these products are only encouraged to register and file a Cosmetic Product Ingredient Statement with the Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program, but just as the title suggests, filing is completely voluntary, according to information posted on the FDA website.
Friends of the Earth, and other organizations concerned with chemically tainted cosmetics used by the masses have spent years compiling scientific data from around the globe in an effort to call attention to potential damage they believe has already been done. The push for California’s Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005 (SB484) was supported by a mere twenty companies – including Burt’s Bees – in hopes that California would serve as a product safety bellwether. SB484 would require that cosmetic manufacturers disclose any product containing ingredients which appear on the state Department of Health Services hazardous chemical list, and agree to begin finding safer alternatives.
Possibly because “The Terminator,” like other politicians and actors, was prepped to appear on camera wear make-up, Governor Schwarzenegger endorsed SB484, signing it in August of 2007. But the bill did not slip by unopposed.
The cosmetics industry invested thousands of dollars in lobbyists to block SB484. The Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrance Association spent $600,000, with Proctor & Gamble adding another $90,000 to it, according to a press release by safecosmetics.org.
Because cosmetic manufacturers are not required to register product ingredients, they likewise do not face the threat of costly product recalls or negative publicity from lawsuits.
Since the melanoma scare debuted in the early 1980s most Americans now associate ultraviolet radiation with skin cancer and avoid any skin to sun exposure without first applying sunscreen, including cosmetic foundation – many brands of which tested positive for oxybenzene, and which is commonly applied near the eyes and mouth on a daily basis.
Just how many products include these chemicals? No one knows, since almost 90 percent of all cosmetic product ingredients have not been tested by the FDA, estimates the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel, in their summary of SB484.
Unsafe levels of oxybenzone and other toxic chemicals known to cause cancer and hormonal disruptions were found in commonly used sunscreens such as Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone and Banana Boat, according to independent testing of hundreds of products by the EWG. Consumers can view the entire list of name brand products, including 172 facial moisturizers, 111 lip balms and 81 lipsticks at www.ewg.org/node26212.
The American Academy of Dermatology and the FDA seem to be, in the minds of American people, the uncontested authorities when it comes to sun exposure. These two entities still continue their attempt at discrediting any findings to the contrary, referring to independent studies cited in the SB484 bill, as “bad science.” Companies opposing the initiative, including Estée Lauder and Johnson & Johnson, called the bill an unnecessary move that will cost California an estimated $1 million per year, and discourage manufacturers of cosmetics from operating in the state, according to the EWG.
Proponents of the bill agree that legislative action might not have been necessary had the public not been bombarded with pro-sunscreen, anti-UVR messages for the past two decades. In Mercola’s opinion, incentive for the cancer industry to promote the use of sunscreen benefits them financially, as cosmetic manufacturers donate a portion of their profits to cancer research, and in turn, the cancer industry encourages more use of sunscreen products.
The human body thrives on ultraviolet radiation (UVR) emitted by the sun, which is measured as UVB and UVA. UVB light, explains Mercola, is the “good guy,” providing vitamin D, essential for fighting off disease, adding that although vitamins and minerals are necessary to maintain optimal health, Vitamin D influences the entire body, from “brains to bones.”
Natural sources of Vitamin D include eggs, organ meats, animal fat, cod liver oil and fish. Mercola adds that some people might prefer to take supplements instead – but this does not replace the recommended 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure per day.
How do we know the difference between UVB and UVA emissions? Getting sunburned on a cloudy day happens when clouds filter out UVB rays, allowing only the UVA rays to come in contact with the skin. While UVB rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., UVA rays are constant during daylight hours, and are most harmful in that they penetrate the skin more deeply, causing premature wrinkling and other free radical damage.
This can be problematic since most sunscreens block only UVB light – the light that provides Vitamin D. Essentially, on a cloudy day most sunscreens offer no protection from the burning UVA rays, yet the potentially harmful chemicals still penetrate the skin. Over-exposure to UVR, whether from the sun or artificial light from tanning beds, can cause squamous or basal cell carcinoma that can be treated in an office visit to a dermatologist, whereas melanoma, like other fatal cancers, are more likely inherited.
Nearly 150,000 cases, including colorectal and breast cancer, could be prevented in the United States alone by people increasing their Vitamin D intake through diet and a few minutes of sunshine each day, a recommendation from Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego.
Organic scientists and environmental groups are not suggesting that people use no protection from being sunburned, as over-exposure always causes cell damage. Instead, they recommend wearing a hat and light weight clothing that covers, and choosing a sun block made from natural minerals like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which have been proven effective and safe for more than seventy-five years.
The Cancer Council of Australia says it best when they boast that “Slip, Slop, Slap” has been responsible for a dramatic change in the behavior and practices of people over the past 25 years, calling it “the most successful health promotion campaigns ever.”
How many generations will it take to un-learn that?