I was walking by a TV the other day and I heard something about a chemical in sunblock being worse for your skin than just being exposed to the sun. Is this true and if so what chemical is it and what does it do.
I’ll copy my answer from a similar question we had recently.
The simple answer is yes, sunscreen can damage your skin under certain circumstances. Using sunscreen is perfectly safe as long as you reapply it frequently enough; however, if one does not reapply often, chemicals common to virtually all sunscreens can cause damage when exposed to UV radiation.
Here’s the science of it. UV radiation is bad because it causes molecules in your skin to generate harmful compounds known as “reactive oxygen species” or ROS. Sunscreen contains special molecules known as “UV filters” which help block out UV radiation and thus stop the formation of ROS. However, these UV filters eventually penetrate to deeper levels of the skin, leaving the epidermis–the outermost layer–vulnerable to UV radiation. Research has found that the very same UV filters which block UV rays–and thus lessen the production of ROS–when on the epidermis actually generate ROS themselves when exposed to UV radiation. Researchers note that these filters only start producing ROS after they have penetrated into deeper levels of the skin and that ROS is not produced when there is a fresh layer of UV filters–sunscreen–on the epidermis.
So, in short: sunscreen is good for you and you should continue to use it, but it can damage your skin if you do not apply it frequently enough.
I’d recommend looking at the second link below for some more information about the chemicals in sunscreens, and whether or not any of the specific chemicals are bad for you.
As far as I can tell, proper use of sunscreen is great for your skin and it keeps your sun healthy by blocking UV rays that damage it. According to new studies, improper and infrequent use of sun screen can damage your skin more than not using sunscreen at all though. In the new study, scientists found that three widely used, FDA-approved UV filters (octylmethoxycinnamate, benzophenone-3 and octocrylene) actually generate ROS in skin when exposed to ultraviolet radiation. ROS molecules are what UV rays create that damage the cell walls and epidermis of your skin. This only applies if you leave sunscreen on for a long period of time and don’t reapply it before going out into the sun. I am guessing that this is what you heard about on the news, but as long as you apply it regularly then using sunscreen is far better than not using it at all.
There was a new FDA study that hit the news circuit last May saying that sunblocks containing vitamin A breakdown in the sunlight and damage the skin. Take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen database to compare sunscreens.
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