Everyone loves the party game/icebreaker “two truths and a lie.”
Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about sunscreen?
A: Sunscreen should be used—even on cloudy days—to prevent skin damage and cancer.
B: While sunscreens may help prevent sun damage and skin cancer, the chemical ingredients in sunscreens—like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate—are dangerous and can cause other types of cancer.
C: Sunscreens do not cause vitamin D deficiency.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
Skin cancer is the most common diagnosis of cancer than all the other types of cancer combined. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, nine out of 10 non-melanoma skin cancers—the deadliest form of skin cancer–are linked to sun exposure. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
In 2011, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published a randomized, clinical study of over 1,600 people showing that regular sunscreen use reduced the incidence of melanoma by 50-73%. When used as directed with other sun protection measures (long sleeves, hats, eye protection), sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher helped prevent sunburn and reduced the risk of early skin aging and skin cancer associated with UV radiation. These findings echo many other scientific studies, which show the use of sunscreen decreases melanoma risk.
Sunscreen should even be applied on cloudy days. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 40 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth on a completely cloudy day. Believing you don’t need to use sunscreen on cloudy days often leads to the most serious sunburns, because people spend all day outdoors with no protection from the sun.
Radical green activist groups often try to scare parents about sunscreen. One such group, called the Environmental Working Group (EWG), advises parents to use less effective and more expensive “natural” sunscreens instead of the lower cost brands that are available in most drug stores. The EWG even goes so far as to advise parents to avoid sunscreens and to view them as a “last resort.”
The EWG also suggests that certain ingredients in sunscreens—such as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate–are dangerous, citing “laboratory studies” that show these chemicals cause harm.
Yet, the laboratory studies cited by the EWG often involve rats that have been given large doses of the chemical either orally or intravenously. That’s not how humans use sunscreen. Instead, sunscreen is applied to the top layer of the skin where absorption is minimal. The EWG also relies on what’s known as “junk science” to push a scary narrative. Junk science is comprised of both studies that have not been peer reviewed and studies that are not credible because they don’t meet the basics of scientific standards and therefore are unworthy of publication or promotion.
According to Dr. Ronald Siegle, a dermatologic surgeon and clinical professor of Dermatology and Otolaryngology at Ohio State University, the FDA approved oxybenzone for use in sunscreens 20 years ago and, to date, there’s no evidence that the chemical is harmful to humans as it’s currently and safely used by sunscreen companies. Dr. Siegle also advises parents that retinyl palmitate is simply a form of vitamin A that is not carcinogenic in humans and which can, in fact, help prevent skin cancer by eliminating pre-cancer cells while also helping to reverse the aging effects of sun damage.
The Skin Cancer Foundation has declared sunscreen to be completely safe and a vital tool in protecting people from skin cancer. There are no studies that show sunscreens cause vitamin D deficiency. But if you’re worried about vitamin D deficiency, Vitamin D is available in dietary supplements, in foods such as salmon and eggs, and in milk and orange juice.
Now go (safely) enjoy some springtime sun!