Can Sunscreen Cause Skin Cancer?

July 27, 2015

Some people question the value of using sunscreen and even question if it can cause skin cancer. The obvious benefits of the sun include the vitamin D needed for good health. But the conclusion drawn (blaming skin cancer on the sunscreen and not the sun) is wrong.

The fact is, skin cancers have been around for many centuries. While the increase in the risk of developing invasive melanoma has increased (in 1935, the risk was 1 in 500; it is now 1 in 55), this can be attributed to a number of factors, including longer lifespans. Sun damage leading to skin cancers generally accumulates over time. Also the thinning ozone layer, which allows greater amounts of harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere; the increased popularity of outdoor activities; clothing that leaves more skin exposed; and the popularity of tanning booths.

Fortunately, improved diagnostic techniques and technology also allow doctors to detect more skin cancers at an earlier stage.

Tan skin was not considered a desirable attribute until the 1920s. Fair, untanned skin signified that a person didn’t have to work outdoors and enjoyed higher social standing. People in tune with the fashion of that era wore protective clothing, including hats, to avoid getting too much sun.

Then fashion and beauty magazines began promoting tans as signs of beauty, health, and affluence in 1929. The increased UV exposure, not the advent of commercial sunscreens, is the most compelling explanation for the rise in skin cancers.

Today there is tangible evidence supporting the need to protect skin against the sun’s rays, regardless of skin type or ethnicity, and most dermatologists recommend using sunscreens that protect against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, in addition to following other protective measures to lower the risk of cancerous and precancerous lesions.

Your body can produce only a certain amount of vitamin D from UVR; after reaching that limit, additional UV exposure actually results in the breakdown of the vitamin.

There are other sources of vitamin D such as fatty fish (salmon), cod liver oil, fortified milk, and orange juice. All of these provide substantial amounts of the vitamin, as do supplements.

Bottom line: Exposure to UVR is much more harmful than beneficial, especially since vitamin D can be obtained without risking your health.

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