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Listen Up, Guys! Sunscreen is Absolutely Essential for Men

The stats are in, and they’re scary.A recent study showed few adults regularly used sunscreen on the face (men: 18.1%, women: 42.6%,), other exposed skin (men: 19.9%, women: 34.4%), or both the face and other exposed skin (men: 14.3%, women: 29.9%). Regular use was associated with sun-sensitive ski, and an annual household income greater or equal to $60,000. Nearly 40% of users were unsure if their sunscreen provided broad-spectrum protection.

Notably striking is the low rate of men using sunscreen, even in spite of such disturbing statistics as:

  • Skin cancer is the cancer men are most likely to face.
  • Over 8,600 American men will die this year from melanoma.
  • Men over 50 are more than twice as likely as women to develop and die from skin cancer.
  • A recent study by the Mayo Clinic has found that the rates for squamous and basal cell carcinoma have jumped for people under 40.

A study from the National Sun Protection Advisory Council found that men spend 36 hours a week in the sun—10 hours per week more than women— and only 25% of them make a concerted effort to stay out of the sun, compared to 39% of women.

Three times more men than women avoided doctors when they had a persisting minor medical symptom, and many neglected to get routine screenings for such conditions as cancers, even if sent reminders and offered free testing by their health plans.

A 2001 study by the American Academy of Dermatology found that middle-aged and older men are the least likely to perform self-exams or visit a dermatologist. Plus, because melanomas on men more often develop on the difficult-to-see upper back, they’re less likely to detect the disease early, when it can be easily cured.

The above information is from:

Bottom line: Men are much less likely than women to wear sunscreen every day.


Chemical castration

Now, sunscreen-shy guys have an ally in Danish researcher Niels Jorgensen, who recently spoke at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s annual conference. According to Jorgensen certain chemicals are responsible for low fertility rates. The scientist’s 15-year study of almost 5,000 Danish men with an average age of 19 found that only 25% had “really good semen quality—that is the shape and concentration of the sperm.”

One word: Plastics!

The suspected culprit chemicals are phthalates, found in plastics and cosmetic products, and PFCs (perfluorochemicals) found in everyday items like waterproof jackets and microwave popcorn bags—products that most men come into contact with on a daily basis.

Getting rid of offending plastic products is undoubtedly a good thing to do, but Jorgensen offered another suggestion that made the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association cry out in genuine pain—he recommended abandoning the use of sunscreen. The response from the CTPA was what you would expect: "We can state categorically that cosmetic products are required by strict European laws to be safe. Not to wear sunscreen is an outrageous piece of advice because we know the risks of sun damage, and to suggest that not using sun-protection products is a good idea is a terrible thing to do.”

While indignation may run riot in some quarters of the cosmetics world at the very thought of sunscreen being cited as a problem, the umbrage is not universal. In some corners of the natural cosmetics world (pretty small) where safe sunscreen is being made (even smaller), there is rejoicing. The sunscreens Jorgensen refers to are chemical sunscreens, and his study actually supports what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been trying for years to point out, namely, that not all sunscreens are created equal. As the watchdog group states in The Trouble with Sunscreen Chemicals , chemical sunscreens contain ingredients, like oxybenzone, that “can be toxic to reproductive systems or interfere with normal development. Another sunscreen chemical, 4-methylbenzidyl camphor, used in Europe and under petition for use in the U.S. is a hormone disruptor.”

This latest Danish study, touching as it does on the sensitive topic of male virility, ought to call out the trouble with sunscreen chemicals louder and clearer than any number of learned articles. Men should not be wearing chemical sunscreens, nor for that matter should pregnant women, babies and children—and while we’re at it, the rest of the population shouldn’t be putting themselves at risk, either. Chemical sunscreens not only disrupt hormones, but they break down in the presence of UV to produce free radicals that can permanently age your skin. So, who needs them?

What can we do?

The answer is: use mineral sun blocks, especially those of the zinc oxide variety. No one should ever use toxic chemical sunscreens, but before men run away screaming, “I told you so,” remember that Jorgensen’s warning only applies to chemical sunscreens. Everyone—including men—needs sun protection, and fortunately there is an alternative. You can still protect your skin from the sun—and keep your sperm count up to snuff—with zinc oxide sunscreen.

On a larger scale, I’ll be fascinated to see how much coverage this study gets in the mainstream press. It has all the elements of a major drama—financial interests (cosmetics and skin-care companies, the plastics industry) pitted against special interests (Save our sperm!). Dismissing a 15-year study of 5,000 men presented by a respectable scientist from a first-world country as crackpot science is no less realistic than lumping all sunscreens—chemical and chemical-free—together. Will industrial leaders even want to challenge this study, given all the little swimmers they risk sacrificing? I suspect Professor Jorgensen knew exactly what weapon would prove most effective in a fight against Big Plastics and has gleefully put our industrial giants on the horns of a major dilemma with his clever, long-range planning. Professor Jorgensen has become, along with Pope Francis, one of my all-time favorite environmental warrior-heroes. You go, guys.