Is Sunscreen Causing Skin Cancer?

7 years ago

Did you see the headlines linking sunscreen to skin cancer? Are you feeling confused about how to protect yourself and family from the dangers of sun exposure? These stories stem from a report by the EWG (Environmental Working Group). Many of these "fear driven" headlines would lead you to believe that it might be more dangerous to use sunscreen than not. Let me assure you, it is still best to use sunscreen, but you should use it wisely.

A statement from The American Academy of Dermatology says, "scientific evidence supports the beneficial effects of sunscreen" and sunscreen is "an important tool in the fight against skin cancer."

Mother applying sunscreen on daughter at beach

It seems like a real shame to me that these reports are coming out now, at the beginning of the summer season, when we should all be doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our families from the dangerous effects of the sun. We need to take every measure possible to reduce our risk for developing skin cancer, and using sunscreen is still the first line of defense.

One thing you don't want to do is buy into claims of 50, 80, and up to 100 SPF. These claims lead consumers into a false sense of security. And many people believe that if they use these high SPF sunscreens, they can put it on once and be protected for the entire day. This is not true.

I contacted the American Cancer Society for a comment. Here is the statement they sent me, from Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, Deputy Chief Medical Officer...

The American Cancer Society continues to believe that sunscreens--when properly used and applied--reduce the risk for sunburns and prevent skin cancers, and that the benefits of sunscreen use outweigh risks. Like the Environmental Working Group and many others interested in this issue, we await the new final regulations from the Food and Drug Administration which we anticipate will address some of the concerns raised by the EWG, as well as establish new standards for testing and promoting effective sunscreen products.

In the meantime, the American Cancer Society reminds everyone that with the summer season approaching, it is important to "Slip, Slop, Slap" when outdoors on sunny days. Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen and slap on a hat to remain protected from the sun. Other suggestions include wearing protective clothing, remain in the shade, and avoid the direct rays of the sun when they are strongest, which is usually between 10AM and 4PM. Ultraviolet-protected sunglasses are also helpful.

Deborah Kotz at addressed the most serious claims linking sunscreen to cancer in this post - Is Sunscreen Dangerous?

The EWG  report raised concerns about retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A compound found in about 40 percent of sunscreens. The group says that chemical could accelerate skin damage and increase skin cancer risk when applied to skin that's exposed to sunlight. These claims, says Lim, are based on a study in mice , which are far more susceptible to skin cancer than humans. "It's dangerous to apply a finding in mice to humans, and I've spoken with a number of my colleagues about this and we all agree that it's very premature to even cast doubt about the safety of this chemical."

From the American Cancer Society - How To Protect Yourself From UV Rays...

  • Cover up when you are out in the sun, wear clothing to protect as much skin as possible.
  • Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Wear a hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around.
  • Limit direct sun exposure during midday.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps.

Here is a video to help you recognize skin cancer...

Also See:

Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
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