Are Nanoparticles Contributing to the Incidence of Skin Cancers?


Us Aussies love the sun, but as we know, Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. We have been ‘Slip, Slop, Slapping’ since 1981 so why are we still getting skin cancers? Could it be what's IN our sunscreens?

Ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB) radiates from the sun causing redness and burning of our skin. Common chemicals used in sunscreens contain compounds which absorb or ‘block’ these UV lights and prevent our skin from burning. However, there are concerns that these chemicals could be harmful when absorbed into our skin, leading to skin allergies, irritations and cellular damage which could contribute to skin cancers.

Although more studies are needed in this area, research has shown that some of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors – chemicals which may interfere with the normal functioning of the body’s endocrine system and hormones. 

A study published by The American Environmental Working Group (EWG) in 2014 reviewed 257 brands of sunscreens and found that more than 75% contained chemicals which were toxic, caused allergic reactions, skin irritations, released skin-damaging free radicals and disrupted hormones such as

Scary! But what about those nanoparticles we keep hearing about? Nanoparticles of UV light blockers zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are ground down to a very fine size so they don't give our skin a pasty white look when applied - think a Zinc smeared nose Old Skool style!

However, while these ingredients are very safe in their normal form, there are concerns that their minuscule size can penetrate cell walls and cause damage.

According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia’s regulatory authority for all therapeutic and pharmaceutical goods and medicines, sunscreens containing nanoparticles are most likely safe and do not pose a risk.

However, nanoparticles are only safe as long as they remain on the surface of the skin which contains non-viable (old dying) cells and do not penetrate our viable (growing and dividing) skin cells which are underneath our outer layer of skin. How can we guarantee that these nanoparticles don’t reach our
viable skin cells? We can’t.

So what do we do? Be ‘Sun Smart’ with these following tips:
• If you can, avoid going out in the heat of the day, normally between 11am and 2pm.
• If out in the sun wear a hat, sunnies, and clothing to cover your body. Don’t forget to cover your arms and legs.
• Try to avoid prolonged periods in the sun and always seek shade.
• Wear sunscreen and reapply every two hours, more if you are swimming. Don’t forget to include areas such as ears, back of the neck and tops of hands and feet.
• Try to avoid these common toxic ingredients in your sunscreen: oxybenzone, parabens, paraffin, homosalate, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC).
• Look for sunscreens which do not contain nanoparticles – there are many on the market now.
• Choose natural sunscreens where possible, containing natural forms of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They might give you a ‘ghostly’ look but what is more important – your cool beach look or your long term good health?

Want to avoid the harsh sun in summer but still want that gorgeous Summer glow? Fake tan has come a long way since orange palms and streaky ankles (well for most people!), and there are plenty of safe fake tans on the market. So what do you look for in a fake tanner?

1. Choose Certified Organic where possible. This means that your tanner will contain organic plant or mineral based ingredients. They will not contain genetically modified ingredients, synthetics or toxic chemicals.
2. Check the ingredients – not just the front label! Many brands will say natural but will still contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which is the toxic colour additive in fake tans. DHA is thought to cause
DNA damage which may lead to cancer. 

3. Look for fake tan brands which use natural ingredients to create the tan – canola oil, glycerine, sugar beets - which, when combined with the amino acids on our skin, produce a tan coloured pigment. If you are faking it at the salon (and they don’t use an organic tanner) make sure you cover your eyes, nose and mouth so you don’t ingest any DHA. 

Keep in mind that fake tan does not protect you from UV radiation. In fact, high DHA tanners make you more susceptible to free radical damage in the first 24 hours after application. A 2007 study found DHA covered skin had 180% more free radical damage than untanned skin. If you choose to fake tan,
you must still protect yourself from the sun!

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