The Truth About Sunscreen and Skin Cancer

The Truth About Sunscreen and Skin Cancer

It’s important to think critically about the things we take for granted, and sunscreen is one of them. If you’ve seen sunscreen in the news lately, it’s normal to be concerned about what you’re putting on your body. However, the truth may not be what it seems. Here’s what to know about sunscreen, its uses, its safety record, and what it can do for your skin.

How Does Sunscreen Work?

Sunscreen comes in a couple different types, but both are measured in their effectiveness by sun protection factor (SPF). SPF is a measure how of long the sunscreen creates UV protection on exposed skin. Ultraviolet radiation comes in two different forms: UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are what cause damage to the deeper layers of the skin, resulting in photoaging and, at worst, skin cancer. UVB rays, on the other hand, are what cause the skin to burn. Sunscreen that protects against both types is called broad spectrum sunscreen.

Sunscreen can be classified as mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreens contain ingredients like zinc oxide to create a physical barrier on the skin that reflects UV rays. Chemical sunscreens contain active compounds that absorb and nullify UV rays. Both have their benefits and have been used for decades to protect against skin cancer. In fact, it’s the number one recommendation to prevent sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Is Sunscreen Safe?

Terms like “chemical sunscreen” can raise flags, but keep in mind that the term “chemical” applies to a vast range of organic compounds – even water. Additionally, the FDA strictly regulates sunscreen as a over-the-counter medication designed to “diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent disease.” It maintains high standards for manufacturing and regularly reviews products to ensure user safety. As such, the FDA considers mineral and chemical sunscreen ingredients as safe to use. Although it continues to collect data on the absorption of sunscreen ingredients into the body, it has not recommended that people stop using sunscreen – in fact, it continues to recommend that people use sunscreen to protect against skin cancer.

There are, however, ways in which sunscreen can be considered unsafe, which is when it’s past its expiration. Wearing sunscreen that is expired can be like not wearing sunscreen at all, significantly raising your risk of melanoma skin cancers and non-melanoma skin cancers. When using sunscreen, always verify the expiration date and throw away any products that are past due. Always check the date when purchasing sunscreen, as well.

Does Sunscreen Cause Cancer?

There is no medically-reviewed, supporting evidence that sunscreen causes cancer. In fact, we know with certainty that sun exposure and tanning causes cancer, and that sunscreen protects against it. Some people have raised concerns about chemical sunscreens and that some of their ingredients may be absorbed into the bloodstream but, according to the AAD, “just because an ingredient is absorbed into the bloodstream does not mean that it is harmful or unsafe.”

What to Do If You’re Worried About Sunscreen

Firstly, considering switching to mineral or physical sunscreens if you’re worried about absorption. Mineral sunscreens are not absorbed into the body and simply sit on the skin as a barrier. They’re very effective as long as you reapply sunscreen regularly. They may also be better for sensitive skin. Secondly, check the active ingredients against this list of FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients:

  • Aminobenzoic acid
  • Avobenzone
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Meradimate
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Padimate O
  • Ensulizole
  • Sulisobenzone
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide

Finally, if you don’t want to wear sunscreen, first understand that it will raise your risk of skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and (the most deadly) melanoma. Take extra steps like wearing sun-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Additionally, stay inside or find shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are at their strongest. Finally, see a board-certified dermatologist yearly for a skin check and keep track of any unusual spots on your skin, checking even areas you can’t easily see.

Sunscreen in Overland Park, KS

At RSVP Med Spa, we offer a tested selection of medical-grade sunscreens with proven ingredients and safety. To meet with our skincare experts, contact our office today and schedule a consultation.