EDITORIAL: Sunscreen is still smart

Questions have been raised about the safety of ingredients in sunscreen, but it remains an important protection against skin cancer.

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Jamie Prahl applies sunscreen to her son Wesley at Foster Beach on July 1.

Jamie Prahl applies sunscreen to her son Wesley at Foster Beach on July 1.

Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

Though safety questions have been raised about the chemicals used in sunscreen lotion, the best advice at the height of a Chicago summer remains the same:

Use enough sunscreen to protect your skin.

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As Stephanie Zimmermann reported in Sunday’s Chicago Sun-Times, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking into whether to regulate a dozen common ingredients in sunscreens. Environmental and consumer advocates are concerned about some of them, including a chemical ingredient, oxybenzone, that might be a health risk.

Skin cancer facts
  • In the U.S., more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. More than two people die of the disease every hour.
  • More than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer were treated in over 3.3 million people in the U.S. in 2012, the most recent year new statistics were available.
  • More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. Non-melanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, affects more than 3 million Americans a year.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
  • Actinic keratosis is the most common precancer; it affects more than 58 million Americans.
  • The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion: about $4.8 billion for non-melanoma skin cancers and $3.3 billion for melanoma.

SOURCES: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Academy of Dermatology




A new FDA study found ingredients in sunscreens enter the bloodstream after just one day of use, but there is little research on how much of a health risk that poses. More studies need to be done, but at the moment, no one has turned up evidence of harm to humans.

Meanwhile, we know of one very big health risk against which sunscreens provide a line of defense: skin cancer.

An estimated 9,500 Americans a day are diagnosed with skin cancer, and one in five Americans will get it at some point. It’s the most common cancer in the United States, and it’s on the rise, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Sunscreens also protect against aging of the skin.

But even now, medical professionals say, people apply only about half as much sunscreen to their skin as they should. Using even less would be a step in a risky direction.

To play it safe, try to limit your sun exposure in the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are strongest. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, big sunglasses and sun-protective clothing. If you’re at the beach, a sun umbrella is a good idea. And one doctor points out people who are concerned about chemicals in sunscreens could just use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead — those are the “physical” sunscreens that sit on top of your skin.

But don’t forget to pack the sunscreen. It’s still the smart thing to do.

In this Monday photo, Pat Richardson, Olivia Richardson, Elizabeth Richardson, James McKenna, Julia McKenna and Laura McKenna put on sunscreen at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.

In this Monday photo, Pat Richardson, Olivia Richardson, Elizabeth Richardson, James McKenna, Julia McKenna and Laura McKenna put on sunscreen at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.

Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP

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