Is sunscreen dangerous? An actual scientist weighs in


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Hmmmm . . . none of this addresses the issue I first heard about years ago, that sunscreen doesn’t actually protect against skin cancer, and may increase the likelihood of skin cancer. I think I gotta get my google on, and see what the interwebs say about it.

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There’s a long history of scientific research on sunscreen. From @slatestarcodex:

A 1995 paper found that people who used more sunscreen had a much higher risk of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Eight years later, a review article claimed that the original paper was confounded by fairness of skin, and that likely the relationship between sunscreen use and melanoma is zero. But the story was further complicated by the finding that sunscreen use may increase cancers of the internal organs, either through vitamin D dependent or some vitamin D independent pathways. My understanding is that a majority of dermatologists are still in favor of sunscreen, but that the issue is by no means settled.

Person who excitedly shares these shitty articles on social media spotted.


Sunscreen good. No sunscreen: bad.

I was 26 when I had my first basal-cell carcinoma removed. Since then I’ve had all of the other minor ones, and last year at 61 I had my first brush with melanoma [1]. All curable by outpatient surgery – so far.

I’ll take my chances with sunscreen.

[1] In situ, thank you, so not a big threat. This time.


The reason some people don’t spend a lot of time outdoors is due to having an illness to begin with. Let’s face it sickly people are unable to spend as much time outside or exercising compounding their illness even further which means they are more likely to die sooner than healthy people. This study reminds me of that bogus study equating breastfeeding with increased intelligence in children. Later it was found out that women most likely to breast feed were on average higher in intelligence, more affluent and better educated than those who didn’t and those smart women passed on that intelligence to their offspring through their DNA and rich nurturing environment. Breastfeeding didn’t have anything to do with the kids IQ. I am not saying breastfeeding doesn’t have any benefits but increased intelligence in offspring isn’t one of them. You won’t make a genius out of a kid by simply breastfeeding them.


But remember: sunscreen isn’t just for wearing anymore.


My sunscreen is Factor: Bricks and Mortar.


I have light skin, freckles, and a ton of moles. Moles that are inspected every six months. Pretty much every six months I have 1-3 of them removed, often one of is found “pre-cancerous.” This happened this week actually.

So I wear sunscreen and cover my skin. My doctor tells me to, and I listen. BUT, the real reasons I wear sunscreen is that I burn if I don’t. And burning hurts. And too much tanning and sun makes you look older earlier. I generally don’t wear it if I’m just biking to work or mowing the lawn, but more than 30-45 minutes in the sun and the sunscreen and hat go on.


Could “seeks sun exposure” just be proxy for a generally increased level of outdoor activity? I recall an article, I think here, about professions with significant outdoor components having the highest mortality rates. In other words, just spending time outdoors is more likely to get you killed than staying inside, and maybe people who seek the sun are more likely to hang around in the dangerous part of the universe.

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So, the paper being cited as proving that sunscreen is bad for you never actually mentions sunscreen, and even its most reasonable conclusion – getting out in the sun now and then is probably good for you – could easily be an artifact of other underlying factors.

Also: Sweden.

Stockholm is at 59ºN. How much more oblique are the sun’s rays in Sweden as compared to the rest of Europe and N. America? How much less intense is the UV radiation so far north? How much more critical an issue is Vitamin D deficiency in southern Sweden, which gets only 3 - 5 hours of daylight for months of the year? If I wanted to do a study on the effects of sunlight exposure on human health, and guarantee that the conclusions of that study could not be reliably extrapolated to most of the Northern Hemisphere’s population, Sweden would be a great place to do it.


I had similar concerns. That’s why I use drinkable sunscreen now.

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I’d be curious to know the composition of the sun screens looked at during these studies. I’m pretty much allergic to nothing and use whatever sunscreen is at hand. My wife on the other hand breaks out in a rash if she uses anything other than the old school zinc/titanium oxide configuration. Perhaps the newer types of sunscreens are playing as much of a part in any observable patterns as the amount of sun exposure is.

Headline rewritten:

“Sunscreen is not dangerous”

but it isn’t as snappy, I guess.


The point is that sunscreen was not looked at during these studies. Only if they went outside and tanned or not.

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This just in, cars still deadly to many!

Although not directly related to this study, there’s a great look at various investigations into sunscreen here:

Yegad. Homeopathic sunscreen? Seems to be cheaper than the pill form, at least:

I know the placebo effect can be powerful, but you’d think it’d fall through a bit in this application.

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I suppose that it might be possible that the exposure could be more like ionizing radiation due to photoelectric electrons from the titanium/zinc, but I wouldn’t think that the photoelectrons would have enough energy to penetrate the dead skin layer.