Special to Practical Dermatology: ACS Chief Medical Officer Sounds Off On Sunscreen Misuse

August 14, 2018

We are getting it all wrong when it comes to our reliance on sunscreen as the be all and end all protection from skin cancer, says Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

Sunscreen wasn’t developed so we could all get a free pass to spend the day on the beach. “Ultraviolet (UV) A rays cause melanoma and UV B causes sunburns,  and most sunscreens block more B than A,” he says.

This sets us up for melanoma. “People stay in the sun longer when the end result is that they don’t burn, but they are still getting high doses of UVA,” he explains.  Sunscreens with higher SPFs may give an even greater false sense of protection, further increasing skin cancer risk by encouraging us to stay in the sun longer.

“Sunblock is a really a good thing if used appropriately, but like so many good things, when used inappropriately, it can cause harm.”

The best counsel is to stay out of the sun and wear protective clothing including a wide-brimmed hat and UV protective sleeves, he says. “If you can’t wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen on all  exposed skin and get our of sun quickly.”



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