Does Sunscreen Really Prevent Skin Cancer?
Meghan MacKinnon, BSc, ND
Aurora | Markham Naturopathic Doctor
Summer is here folks. The countdown to the end of the school year and summer holidays has officially begun as my patients who are teachers work late finishing up report cards and parents prepare for holidays and trips to the cottage. Recently, a patient asked me how to pick the best sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, which got me thinking – does sunscreen actually prevent skin cancer or just burns?
There are a few different types of skin cancer, but the most deadly one is melanoma and with the changes in our atmosphere and the ozone, this cancer is on the rise. The current most accepted thought to prevent skin cancer is to block the sun and prevent sunburn which blocks the damage to your cells. This will help with the observable damage that can happen with sun exposure, but what about the damage to your skin that we can’t see? There are two main types of UV rays that can potentially cause harm, UV-A and UV-B. Many sunscreens block only UV-B which will prevent your burn and block natural vitamin D synthesis, while ignoring the more harmful, UV-A rays. In addition, most sunscreens contain many chemicals, some which are considered to promote cancer. A 2002 meta-analysis from the American Journal of Public Health has shown that there was no association with sunscreen use and melanoma, but some research has shown that the sunscreen we are using, may actually incease your risk of getting malignant melanoma, especially if you live at northern latitudes.

What to Do???
1. Check your sunscreen to see ensure that it covers against UV-A rays in addition to UV-B rays and to get a sunscreen that has fewest toxic chemicals. You can check your sunscreen here on the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Database.

2. Cover up and stay in the shade. Like everything in life, sun in moderation is okay, but know your limits and hang out under a tree.

3. Antioxidants! We’ve heard this one before. By increasing your dietary consumption of antioxidants from fruits and veggies you are protecting your skin from the inside-out.