Sunscreens prevent sunburns, but beyond that simple fact surprisingly little is known about the safety and efficacy of these ubiquitous creams and sprays. EWG’s review of the latest research unearthed troubling facts that might tempt you to give up on sunscreens altogether. That’s not the right answer. Despite the unknowns about sunscreens’ efficacy, public health agencies still recommend using them, just not as your first line of defense against the sun. At EWG we use sunscreens, but we look for shade, wear protective clothing and avoid the noontime sun before we smear on the cream. Here are the surprising facts:
1. There’s no consensus that sunscreens prevent skin cancer.
The FDA’s 2011 sunscreen rules allow sunscreen makers to advertise that using their products can decrease the risk of skin cancer and sun-related skin aging. But a wide range of public health agencies – including the FDA – have found very little evidence that sunscreen prevents most types of skin cancer. In reviewing the evidence, the FDA said that the available clinical studies “do not demonstrate that even [broad spectrum products with SPF greater than 15] alone reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.” The agency also said that it is “not aware of any studies examining the effect of sunscreen use on the development of melanoma.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer recommends clothing, hats and shade as primary barriers to UV radiation. It says that “sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin cancer prevention and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the sun” (IARC 2001a).