Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States; in the last 30 years, people have manifested skin cancer more than all other cancers combined. The treatment of skin cancers in the last 20 years has increased by almost 77 percent than noted in the previous 20 years.
Public awareness of this enormous health risk has proportionally increased as well with recommendations for the regular use of sunscreen high on the list of precautions to prevent the development of skin cancer. A new study published in the journal Nature has found that sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer—even at SPF (sun protection factor) 50.
Before you get too freaked out, sunscreen does prevent sunburn.
Severe sunburn puts you at greater risk for developing skin cancer. The study concluded, however, that although sunscreen significantly delayed the onset of the development of melanoma, alone it won’t prevent skin cancer because enough ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate through to the skin to cause damage if there is excess exposure. The concern is that people may be complacent and have a false sense of security, thinking they are immune if they use sunscreen alone to prevent skin cancer.
Not all sunscreens are alike and the chemicals themselves are a cause of concern.
Studies at the University of Zurich, Switzerland have shown a correlation between some sunscreen chemicals and adverse effects on the endocrine system.
There are two types of sunscreen available in the U.S.: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens (the more common) contain avobenzone as a UV filtering agent but this compound requires the addition of other stabilizing chemicals, some of which are toxic to the immune and reproductive systems. One of these, oxybenzone, has been linked to lower birthweight and endometriosis.
Mineral sunscreens seem to be relatively safer and protect against both UVA and UVB rays, although whatever you put on your skin is absorbed into your body and long-term effects are still unknown. There are choices in sunscreens available.
There are many factors in calculating the risk for contracting skin cancer, including genetics, skin type, geographic location, and race. Those with fair skin that freckles easily, for example, are at a higher risk than darker-complected people. People at higher risk must be more diligent with skin protection and sun exposure: wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and cloth covering provide the highest level of safety.
The sun is not our enemy. We have to remember there is a balance between getting the necessary nutrients (and enjoyment!) from natural sunlight and the risks from overexposure. We absolutely need vitamin D, for example. A combination of common sense precautions and self-education will help us to achieve that balance.