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Melanoma

Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul - Jim Valvano


Despite aggressive campaigns reminding people to liberally use sunscreens, skin cancer including melanoma is on the rise. Just look at Australia. According to WHO “Currently, between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year” and sun exposure is the biggest culprit. While melanoma accounts for only about 4 percent of all skin cancer cases, it causes almost 80 percent of skin cancer deaths.

There is no argument that sunscreens, if used properly, can prevent sunburn. But could ‘slip, slop'...be causing more harm than good? A groundbreaking study in 2011 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) on the safety and efficacy of sunscreens suggests that this is a distinct possibility.

The EWG study found that 84 percent of 785 sunscreen products with an SPF rating of 15 or higher offer inadequate protection from the sun’s harmful rays, or contain ingredients with safety concerns. For example, some popular sunscreen chemicals break down when exposed to sunlight and must be formulated with stabilizing chemicals while others penetrate the skin and present significant health concerns. And remember, about 20% of sunscreen products are not broad-spectrum - UVA and UVB.

On top of this, sunburn-causing UVB wavelengths that sunscreens are designed to block also start the chemical reaction in your body that produces vitamin D. Extensive use of sunblock reduces the amount of helpful UVB our bodies absorb creating the potential for vitamin D deficiency. And research shows that at least 30% of us are already vitamin D deficient.

Ironically, it is nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D from food. Sunlight exposure is the only reliable way to get your body to produce it in adequate quanities. Some researchers say that we need about 20 to 30 minutes of exposure daily to generate enough Vitamin D. They recommend getting out in the sunlight unprotected before 10am and after 4pm to receive the benefits of UVB rays while minimizing any damage. By the way, it would take ten glasses of Vitamin D-fortified milk to get the minimum amount of Vitamin D required each day.

Here's the kicker...evidence suggests that Vitamin D may help prevent cancer as well as osteoporosis, depression and even affects diabetes and obesity. Researchers are also discovering that vitamin D promotes normal cell growth and is fundamental for maintaining hormonal balance and a strong immune system.

So, if you believe sunscreens may cause more harm than good, don’t use them or check out some of the ‘natural’ sunscreens. But, if you believe that the current sunscreens are beneficial and outweigh the risks, choose a product that is broad-spectrum with an SPF of at least 30 with a PPD of at least 8. Apply products 15-30 minutes before sun exposure, even on cloudy days. And always remember sunscreen is not waterproof!

And if you are still not convinced either way check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens and view their “Hall of Fame “and “Hall of Shame.” The July 2010 issue of Consumer Reports also rates sunscreen products.

At this point it appears that sunscreens can prevent that nasty sunburn, but are they really protective in the long term? Time will tell.


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