Oh, man, Facebook — this whole sunscreen causes cancer thing is like, taking you over.
If you’ve been on Facebook lately, chances are you’ve seen at least one share of the groundbreaking RealFarmacy article titled “Scientists Blow The Lid on Cancer & Sunscreen Myth,” as it gives us tacit permission to eschew one of the great wet blankets of summertime — sunscreen, of course.
In the past few decades, sunscreen to combat skin cancer has not only become a thing, it’s become a sort of mandatory thing. For a multitude of reasons including that sunscreen now exists and that we better understand the causes of melanoma and skin cancer, sunscreen and summer are inextricably linked.
And no one really likes sunscreen. It’s expensive, and you need a lot of it. It’s a right pain in the derrière to bring children anywhere outdoors in summer or on a sunny day and have to keep coating their wriggling, unwilling little bodies in sunscreen to prevent future cancer.
It’s messy, greasy, and it smells like sunscreen, pervasively, and aside from the whole not getting cancer thing it’s pretty safe to say sunscreen never made anyone’s beach day more fun. We’d all like to travel back to 1974 when a tub of Crisco lasted half a summer and doubled as a receptacle for all the cigarettes you smoked at the beach when it was empty.
But now, we pretty much definitively know better — as much as everyone loves the sun, the sun does not love us in turn, and its unmitigated rays on our skin pose a scientifically provable risk of future melanoma or skin cancer.
Not everyone is a doctor or scientist, and indeed, not everyone understands precisely why we suddenly need to rub a sticky substances on our exposed skin before a day at the pool — so naturally, we look for reasons to get out of this costly and annoying procedure and enjoy a day in the sun.
Which is why articles like the RealFarmacy one are so potentially damaging — citing a Swedish study that observed a correlation between lack of sun exposure and adverse outcomes, it definitively concludes a sunscreen cancer link, even though correlation isn’t causation.
The post reads:
“The epidemiological study followed 30,000 women for over 20 years and ‘showed that mortality was about double in women who avoided sun exposure compared to the highest exposure group.’… Researchers concluded that the conventional dogma, which advises avoiding the sun at all costs and slathering on sunscreen to minimize sun exposure, is doing more harm than actual good.”
Ugh. That really isn’t what research has said at all, however, and the science blog IFLS breaks it down — explaining that a likely factor cited in the study was not use of sunscreen itself, but use of inadequate sunscreen coupled with sun exposure:
“RF’s implication that sunscreen is causing the melanoma is dead wrong; the paper itself states ‘sunscreen use, by permitting more time sunbathing, is associated with melanoma occurrence,’ particularly when using sunscreen with a low SPF that isn’t as protective.”
Snopes also weighed in on this internet scarelore, summarizing:
“However, those results cannot be summarized in any reasonable way as proving that, contrary to previous medical wisdom, high exposure to sunlight is beneficial, exposure to sunlight is not related to the development of skin cancer, or that the use of sunscreen is pointless or actually increases the chances of contracting skin cancer.”
So while it may be tempting to believe sunscreen causes cancer and simply getting in the sun is great for you, the answer is a lot more complicated — and despite how much we want to just go to the beach, the sunscreen cancer rumor won’t protect you nearly as well as a high-SPF, broad spectrum sunscreen.