New Study by John Hopkins Indicates Sunscreen Not Enough to Prevent Skin Cancer in Baltimore

A new study from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine indicates that wearing sunscreen alone is not enough to prevent skin cancer when living in Baltimore. Instead, residents must take addition means to prevent the health complications associated with getting overly sunburned, especially if they have ever had nonmelanoma skin cancer in the past.


The study, entitled Sunburn and Sun-Protective Behaviors Among Adults With and Without Previous Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: A Population-Based Study, sought to determine if those who have had nonmelanoma skin cancer try harder to avoid the sun’s rays more than those who have never had skin cancer before. In other words, if one subset of the population was more “cancer-conscious” than the other. The study also evaluates the effectiveness of such awareness and extra precautions.


Using data from 2005 and 2010 National Health Interview Surveys, the study found that 44 percent of individuals who have had nonmelanoma cancer used shady areas to stay out of the sun’s rays purely out of a health-based objective not to get cancer. Only 22 percent of those who have never had experienced nonmelanoma skin cancer did the same. Long sleeve shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunscreen were all likewise utilized more often by those who had nonmelanoma skin cancer in the past for preventative reasons.


Despite taking these extra precautions, however, 30 percent of those with melanoma cancer histories continued to get sunburned, while 41 percent of those who took no precautions report getting sunburned – a mere 11 percent difference. Despite this, the numbers still suggest that avoiding sun caused a significant difference in getting sunburned, while wearing sunscreen did not cause much of a difference at all.


“People who rely only on sunscreen may not be applying enough, covering all their exposed skin or reapplying often enough to shield themselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays,” said Anna L. Chien, a co-author of the study.


Critics, however, offer a secondary be an answer as to why most sunscreens are not effective. Some scientific backstory is required to understand their alternative explanation. There are two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from the sun – Ultra Violent A (UVA), and Ultra Violet B (UVB). Both types of UV rays can give you skin cancer, so the FDA recommends a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that protects against each form.


What makes matters a little more confusing, however, is that UVA is further divided into two types called UVA1 and UVA2. UVA1 is more prevalent in the atmosphere than UVA2, but most sunscreen brands only protect against UVA2.


If anything, opponents of the study say, the latest results verify most sunscreens are not adequately protecting its users against the full UV spectrum, which is why they are using sunscreens and still continuing to get sunburned.


Instead of misapplication, as the co-authors suggest, critics believe that the sunscreen’s ingredients may be to blame. Studies show that oxybenzone, a common chemical ingredient in most sunscreens, can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate skin temperature. This chemical also has an acidic PH balance, which cancer cells prefer over traditional Zinc Oxide sunscreens.


For those who use oxybenzone-based sunscreens, some suggest they may be creating an environment that is conducive for skin cancer cells to multiply. Zinc Oxide, on the other hand, is the only natural ingredient that has been clinically proven protect users from the full UV spectrum, including UVA1 rays.


The study did not specify the what ingredients were in the participants’ sunscreen. Further research may be required to determine the effectiveness of modern sunscreens for people with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer.



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