Jun 29, 2016 The Dermatology Blog

Is Sunscreen Dangerous?

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Every year at this time, I regularly field questions from my patients about sunscreen safety.  Much of this appears to stem from the Environmental Working Group’s annual report on sunscreens, in which they describe the “dangers” of using various sunscreen ingredients.  Their website is rife with graphic, red and orange hazard signs, as well as health warnings, features that may lead some of their visitors to the very mistaken conclusion that most sunscreens are somehow more dangerous than sun exposure.

There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that ultraviolet radiation (UVR) causes skin cancer. Over 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86% of melanomas are caused by UVR. This is not a minor issue; in the US alone over 5 million cases of skin cancer are treated each year, at a cost of over 8 billion dollars. More importantly, an estimated almost 10,000 Americans and 1150 Canadians will lose their life to melanoma this year. Most experts would agree that skin cancer prevention is a public health imperative.

We now have high-quality scientific evidence that sunscreens prevent skin cancer. A large, randomized controlled trial was conducted in Australia over a 4.5-year period in order to examine this issue. At the conclusion of this study, participants who had been randomized to daily sunscreen use had developed 39% fewer squamous cell carcinomas than those who had been randomized to using sunscreen at their discretion. 7 Long-term follow-up of those who took part in this study over an additional 10 year period found that participants in the daily sunscreen group had a 50% reduction in their risk of developing melanoma, and a 73% reduction in their risk of (the more dangerous) invasive melanoma. 8 We are in the midst of an epidemic of skin cancer, and sunscreen is one of the major means we have with which to temper it.

Read the rest of the article at The Dermatology Blog

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Editorial Voice
Janellen Smith , MD for the Editorial Voice - ZALEA Janellen Smith , MD

As the summer begins in earnest, it is time again to visit the important and appropriate use of sunscreens. As this article points out, the vast majority of scientists agree that ultraviolet radiation causes skin cancer and there is very good evidence that sunscreens prevent skin cancer. This premise is supported by cancer prevention groups across the globe including The American Cancer Society, The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation and the Cancer Council of Australia. Unfortunately, there are groups out there that ignore this evidence and thus endanger those who choose to avoid sunscreens in their daily lives.

This article is an excellent review of the way in which scientific data is manipulated by scaremonger groups, the latter goading the public into avoiding sunscreens. Although the supposed purpose of the EWGs website is to protect consumers and point them in the direction of appropriate sunscreens, I find that in my clinic there is a significant proportion of people that use their flimsy data to avoid sunscreens completely. Sunscreens are an immensely important part of a well-rounded approach to sun protection that includes sun protective clothing, sunglasses, seeking the shade and avoiding the sun at peak hours.

Sun protection is an important piece of an overall healthy relationship with our environment. Dermatologists support a well-balanced approach to this subject and a need to showcase high-quality reviews on sun protection. This article is an important step in that direction, a great attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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