The Truth About that Sunscreen Myth Article on Facebook

There’s an article going around on Facebook entitled “Scientists Blow the Lid on Cancer and the Sunscreen Myth.” The article argues that sunscreen is bad, sunbathing is good, and there’s no proven link between melanoma and sun exposure.

What? Is this for real?

As a parent of six-year-old twins, one of whom has EPP, a rare genetic allergy to the sun, this kind of misinformation pisses me off and it is just plain old lazy journalism.

Sadly, the article isn’t a hoax, but the science behind it is questionable. To get an expert opinion, I asked Dr. Renee Howard, a pediatric and general dermatologist and board advisor at my company Mack & G , where we make sun-smart fashion for kids.

Beware What You Read and Believe

Some of the article’s most suspect theories stem from a Swedish study that found women who avoid sunbathing had twice the mortality rates of women who sunbathe frequently. I asked Dr. Howard about it.

“I’ve read the entire study, but I’m not sure the reporter did,” she said. “Like so many media sources do when reporting on scientific studies, they missed some important subtleties.”

For example, there were some notable differences in the health parameters (such as higher body mass index) and socioeconomic and educational background of the sun-avoidant women that could have played a role in their increased mortality. In addition, there was no data regarding their vitamin D levels, as compared to the control group.

“That could make a big difference,” said Dr. Howard. “The increase in mortality for the sun-avoidant women could be due to health risk factors that have nothing to do with their lack of sunbathing. ”

The study also called its results “observational evidence” and pertinent only to those living in countries like Sweden with low solar intensity. Shockingly, the article leaves this information out completely.

“If you live in Marin County, California, you get more solar exposure in one day of running errands than most Swedes get in a month,” said Dr. Howard. “To use this study as a guideline for behavior when you live in a sunny place would be a mistake.”

The Real Scoop on Vitamin D Deficiency

The article also attributed the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. to over-use of sunscreen. While Dr. Howard didn’t dispute that many people in the United States have low vitamin D levels, she did point out that it wasn’t until relatively recently that vitamin D levels were even measured.

“Some people may be predisposed to low vitamin D levels, just as some people naturally have high cholesterol levels,” she said. “In addition, we really don’t know what is ‘normal’ for Vitamin D.”

If you are vitamin D deficient, Dr. Howard suggests taking a vitamin D supplement and if your skin can take it, getting a little — but not too much — sun exposure.

“It really depends on your skin type,” she said. “If you’re fair, keep covered. If your skin is darker, it’s fine to let the skin on your arms and legs to get a few minutes of sun. For most people, it doesn’t take much sun exposure to get the vitamin D needed.”

Dr. Howard also said that even with sunscreen some UV rays penetrate the skin, which for fair-skinned people living in sunny climates, may be all that’s needed to produce adequate vitamin D.

Sunscreens and Cancer-Causing Biohazards — Truth or Fiction?

Finally, I asked Dr. Howard about sunscreen. Is it polluting the environment and does it contain cancer-causing biohazards as the article suggests? And is there a bona fide connection between the increase of malignant melanomas and ubiquitous sunscreen use as claimed in Elizabeth Plourde’s book and cited in the article?

Again, Dr. Howard cautioned to look at the science: “There are numerous studies that unequivocally prove that intense, intermittent sun exposure increases melanoma risk. Therefore avoiding sunburn through the use of protective clothing and sunscreen, should help reduce risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.”

As for the matter of sunscreen causing pollution, Dr. Howard said, “If you want to play it safe, use a sunscreen that is zinc based, SPF 30 and wear protective clothing.”

Dr. Howard closed with this advice: “If you’re going to be outside, use sunscreen, especially on your face. And if you’re going to be outside for more than three hours — hiking, biking, hanging out at the beach, whatever — cover up. Sunscreen wears off, protective clothing doesn’t. Believe me, the skin cancer patients I see daily in my practice wish they’d followed these simple rules earlier in life.”

My philosophy is that sun safety should be as common as brushing & flossing — make it a part of your daily regime. It’s never too soon to start.

Mack & G makes sustainable sun-smart fashion for kids. Every piece offers chemical-free UPF50+ protection along with fun, functional details like pop-up collars, long sleeves with thumb holes that protect little hands from the sun.

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