Fact-check: Sunscreens don’t cause cancer

Fact-check: Sunscreens don’t cause cancer

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skin cancer

Most of the unfounded fears are essentially about the chemical ingredients seeping into the skin and entering the bloodstream. 

By Tej Kumar

People use sunscreens to protect themselves from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays – the leading cause of skin cancers. However, there’s no dearth of misconceptions about sunscreens, particularly on social media. An Instagram post, for instance, claims that sunscreens cause skin cancer as they block Vitamin D from the sun. Although it mentions that studies have confirmed the claim, no sources are cited. 

Before we try to comprehend the basis for these fears, it’s important to know that there are two types of sunscreens available in the market today. Physical sunscreens reflect UV rays from the sun and contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, while chemical blockers contain ingredients such as avobenzone and octisalate that absorb the UV rays before they can damage your skin.

Most of the unfounded fears are essentially about the chemical ingredients seeping into the skin and entering the bloodstream. Last year, an independent testing lab had claimed to detect the chemical benzene, a known human carcinogen, in several sunscreen products and called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall the products. However, there is no evidence yet that any of the ingredients in sunscreen increase our risk of cancer.

“Skin cancer is caused when mutations develop in the DNA of our skin cells. Overexposure to UV rays from the sun is the main cause. Without the right use of sunscreens at regular intervals, the risk of skin cancer gets higher,” says Dr. Amee Daxini, dermatologist and cosmetologist based in Bengaluru, India. 

Another popular misconception about sunscreens is that they cause vitamin D deficiency. “Sunscreens never completely stop sunlight from penetrating our skin. The concerns of low Vitamin D are baseless,” avers the doctor. The evidence from field trials and observational studies so far suggests that the risk is negligible.

All said and done, it’s important to remember that sunscreens cut the risk of skin cancer. There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that using sunscreen can cause cancer. In case you are still unsure, it’s best to use a physical sunscreen (with an SPF of 30 or more). That way, you can be certain that the ingredients don’t penetrate beyond the outer layer of your skin.