Even while sunscreen products multiply, so are cases of skin cancer. Melanoma, in fact, is the only cancer whose rates are still on the rise, according to Darrell Rigel, MD and professor of dermatology at New York University.
In a presentation of his recent study at the 67th annual meeting of the American Association of Dermatology, Dr. Rigel identified six indicators that put a person at a higher risk of melanoma, including a history of blistering sunburns as a teenager, red or blonde hair and a family history of the disease. Ultimately, however, everyone is considered at risk. But in terms of the effectiveness of sunscreen, there is not real evidence to show that sunblock prevents skin cancer, and studies show that it may even cause it, according to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EGW).
Among the threats we are learning about is vitamin A’s potential to become a photocarcinogen, meaning it becomes cancer-causing in the sun, a claim substantiated by a study published in 2011 by the National Toxicology Program. The study, which exposed mice to the most common forms of vitamin A used in topical creams, found that the use of creams containing vitamin A “significantly decreased survival, even in the absence of SSL [solar simulated light] exposure in male mice” when compared to those that had no contact with a topical form of the vitamin. Rather than throwing out sunscreen completely, researchers suggest learning which ingredients to look for when shopping. According to Nneka Leiba, senior research analyst at EWG, oxybenzone and vitamin A (also called retinyl palmitate) are two to avoid.
Further protective measures include avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when it’s strongest, and wearing clothing that shields, including hats.