Toxic sunscreen bad for health, the planet

South Africa has some of the highest incidence of malignant melanoma in the world, highlighting the critical importance of using sunscreen which should be non-toxic, says leading SA health expert, Vanessa Ascencao.  

January is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and research shows that in SA the incidence of malignant melanoma is among the highest in the world with at least 23.2 cases per 100 000 reported among the white population and 0.5 per 100 000 among the black population. Over 20 000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the country each year, mostly attributed to ultra-violet exposure.

Ascencao says all South Africans, no matter their skin tone, should strive to stay sun-safe naturally, including through diet and supplements, and should avoid sunscreens with harmful ingredients.

Some countries are clamping down on harmful chemicals in sunscreens and Hawaii will pass a law in 2021 banning those with oxybenzone and octinoxate which contribute to coral destruction and may cause hormone disruption and other illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also advised against sunscreens with oxybenzone.

Ascencao suggests identifying sunscreen with safe ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide with an SPF of at least 15. She recommends avoiding the summer sun between 10am and 3pm and wearing a wide-rimmed hat and protective clothing. She warns that sunburn before age 18 may increase the risk of skin problems later in life.

Ascencao says diet and supplements support skin health. She advocates a natural, anti-inflammatory, organic, whole food diet including blueberries, nuts and seeds, carrots and leafy greens, green tea extract and cauliflower which help protect against wrinkling and sun damage while fighting free radicals that cause stress on the body.

“Taking good quality, food-derived supplements such as green tea extract, Origine 8 and Purest Omega 3 may help reduce inflammation, fight against disease, strengthen the immune system and promote healing. A body that is healthy on the inside can repair damage a lot quicker,” said Ascencao.


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