After a brutal winter and harsh spring storms, we’re all ready for a little fun in the sun. But before you hit the beach, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) wants to remind you to slather on your sunscreen–without worry. Should you believe them?
This week, the AAD released a statement reemphasizing the fact that the use of sunscreen is a safe and effective way to protect yourself from skin cancer. They directly countered claims, which received wide attention in the past year, that say that the ingredients in sunscreen are toxic and more harmful than the ultraviolet radiation sunscreens are meant to protect us from.
In addition to pointing out serious problems in the reports that criticize the ingredients in sunscreen, the AAD pointed to the bottom-line facts: There will be 2 million Americans diagnosed with skin cancer in 2011 and rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have been rising for at least 30 years.
By reducing your exposure to ultra violet radiation, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. There are some very simple steps you can take to protect yourself, including avoiding sun exposure during peak sun times and wearing protective clothing such as broad brimmed hats. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers more specific guidelines for using sunscreen appropriately, advising you to:
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher for everyday activities and a water-resistant SPF of 30 or higher for extended outdoor activity.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) 30 minutes before going outside and to reapply every two hours or after swimming and sweating.
- Use sunscreen only on children aged six months or older. Newborns should not be exposed to the sun.
Another concern with sunscreen use has been the belief that using sunscreen can prevent you from getting enough vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” that helps you absorb calcium. As per the AAD, you can get the recommended allowance of vitamin D by eating foods naturally high in vitamin D along with fortified products. If you have concerns about your intake, talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Still, some groups say that more research is needed to determine if certain ingredients are safe for special populations such as pregnant women. Consumer Reports recently noted concerns related to an ingredient in some sunscreens, etinyl palmitate. Because this converts to retinoids, which have been linked to birth defects, Consumer Reports states, “As a precaution, pregnant women may want to avoid sunscreens with retinyl palmitate.”