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AAD Responds to Salacious Media Coverage About Sunscreen and Melanoma Prevention

You may have seen some sensational headlines recently: “Sunscreens Don’t Prevent Deadly Skin Cancer, Researchers Say,” screamed Natural World News. “Does Sunscreen Prevent Skin Cancer?” asked The UK Guardian. Another paper in the UK, The Mirror, declared, “Sun Cream WON’T Stop Skin Cancer, New Study Suggests,” and the New Zealand Herald headlined, “Sunscreen Won’t Save You From Deadliest Skin Cancer.” 

Unfortunately, all of these headlines are reckless misrepresentations of a recent study that suggests that sunscreen alone is not adequate enough of a protection against melanoma. Fortunately not all media outlets choose to so blatantly skew the study in order to receive clicks. Many news headlines ran something along the lines of “Skin cancer: Sunscreen ‘not complete protection” (BBC), or “Study Finds Sunscreen Alone Can’t Protect Against Melanoma” (Prevention.com).

Some news articles went on to say that people should never think that sunscreen alone makes them “invincible” to damaging UV rays and advocated covering up with a hat or long-sleeved clothing and staying indoors or in the shade during the middle hours of the day. Some news outlets also noted that most people don’t use sunscreen properly, even when they do apply it, by not using enough or not reapplying it in a timely manner.

The recent study that has garnered all the attention was this: Mice were given the gene mutation Braf, which is found in half of all melanoma’s, and then exposed to UV radiation. Half of the mice were covered in SPF 50 sunscreen, the other half left bare. All of the mice eventually developed melanoma, but the mice that were given sunscreen experienced a significant delay in the time in which melanoma formed. The sunscreen’ed mice also developed fewer melanomas overall.

In response to the wide media coverage of this study, the president of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), Brett Coldiron, MD, FAAD, released a statement explaining the basics of the study and offering two takeaways in light of the results.

“The first [takeaway] is that wearing sunscreen is an important tool in the fight against melanoma. Research has shown that daily sunscreen use can cut the incidence of melanoma in half. The second is that although sunscreen is a critical tool in the fight against skin cancer, it cannot completely ward off the sun’s harmful UV rays. In order to best reduce your risk of skin cancer, it is equally important to seek shade and wear protective clothing in addition to applying sunscreen to all exposed skin.”

The AAD went on to recommend that everyone apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater, and underscored the fact that “unprotected sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.” 

Unfortunately, irresponsible and unethical reporting may cause more people to neglect to wear sunscreen. Knowing what patients are reading in the news will help health care providers to better address important issues of skin cancer prevention and, in the process, help save lives.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Image: AAD