Screening Yourself from Both UV Rays and Bogus Information

Screening Yourself from Both UV Rays and Bogus Information

Screening Yourself from Both UV Rays and Bogus Information

You're better off without sunscreen. At least, that's what a few recent articles are telling you. But guess what you're really better off without?

   

Call it the EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW IS WRONG genre, those articles that sport provocative, hyperbolic headlines designed to grab your attention—and your hyperlink clicks—no matter how misleading or even inaccurate they might be.

One of the hottest topics in this genre is sunscreen, with numerous Websites seeking your traffic with headlines like "Scientists Blow the Lid on Cancer & Sunscreen Myth."

Don't believe everything you read. If you're planning to spend time significant time in the sun, sunscreen is your friend, even if it is not the equivalent of a complete topical immunization against skin cancer.

The above-mentioned story was published last month by RealFarmacy.com, which claims that "researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that women who avoid sunbathing during the summer are twice as likely to die as those who sunbathe every day."

But that's not quite what the study found. For starters, the headline is complete fiction, as the word "sunscreen" never appears in the article documenting the study's findings.

What the study does suggest is that there is "observational evidence that avoiding sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality," although sunlight exposure comes with its own dangers.

"There is epidemiological evidence that all-cause mortality is related to low vitamin D levels," writes the study's authors. "[…] Sunlight exposure and fair skin are major determinants of human vitamin D production, but they are also risk factors for cutaneous malignant melanoma."

The RealFarmacy.com story has gotten enough attention—and is bogus enough—to have acquired its own page on Snopes.com, a resource dedicated to debunking myths.

"The strongest conclusion that might be drawn from the study," says Snopes, "is the rather narrow one that people with characteristics of the study group—that is, light-skinned Caucasian women living in parts of the world with limited sunshine and a low UV index—would probably be better off with some sun exposure rather than no sun exposure because the human body needs some sunlight in order to produce vitamin D[,] which is essential to good health."

A similarly misleading story not yet notorious enough to be snooped by Snopes was published around the same time last month by NHS Choices. "High-factor sunscreen doesn't cut melanoma risk," warns the headline.

But its author doesn't know whether she's coming or going as she "reports" on a recently completed Cancer Research UK's Manchester Institute study. "This study indicated that sunscreen did reduce the risk of developing melanoma in the mice," the author writes, in spite of the headline, "but that protection was not 100%."

But you have to read a bit to get to that nugget of truth. First you get that fallacious headline. Then, in the first line of the story, comes a quote from The Guardian's article on the study: “High-factor sun cream cannot…protect against the deadliest form of skin cancer,” The Guardian reports.

Just one problem: Luisa Dillner, the author of the article in The Guardian, never wrote that, nor anything close to it. The words "cannot" and "deadliest" don't even appear in her article.

What Dillner does do is responsibly report on the research in question. "Research in this week's Nature shows that while factor 50 reduces the number of melanomas and delays their onset, it can't prevent them," she writes. […] The good news is that a combination of sunscreen and covering up can reduce melanoma rates […]."

That's not just Dillner's take on the study: it's exactly what Cancer Research UK says.

“We’ve known for some time that sunscreen, when applied properly, can help protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays," says Dr. Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK. "But people tend to think they’re invincible once they’ve put it on and end up spending longer out in the sun, increasing their overall exposure to UV rays. […] This research adds important evidence showing that sunscreen has a role, but that you shouldn’t just rely on this to protect your skin."

It is always possible that a generally accepted scientific theory will turn out to be wrong. History is replete with examples, and it is almost certain there are more to come (even if history has taught scientists to be far less sure of themselves and to be more circumspect in advancing new theories).

But the Internet is replete with examples of false claims of such upheaval, and most certainly there will be more. So when you come across reportage of such a paradigm shift, don't swallow it without the proverbial grain of salt. Any major revolution in scientific thought will be widely reported by responsible writers.

That's the good side of the Internet. Use it as a preventive measure against the cancerous part, those sources who are all too happy to endanger your health by way of misinformation for the few pennies they get every time they hook you with a piece of fiction dressed up as urgent, breaking news.


About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com

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Last Updated : Monday, September 19, 2022