Many Americans believe a sunscreen can both bronze the skin and protect sun-lovers from skin cancers. This story reinforces this belief by reporting on new sunscreens that contain special ingredients said to block more of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. How good is the evidence to buttress the story’s main point—that newer formulations are better than old? Did researchers arrive at this conclusion after comparing the incidence of melanoma in a population of high-risk individuals randomly assigned to use either “new” formulations or “old” ones, then follow them for many years? Or did they study mice in a laboratory, as in one recent Australian experiment? (Br J Dermatol. 2006;155(2):408-15.) In other words, can sun-lovers slather on the new sunscreens with impunity? Or would a word of caution be in order? The questions are important because, in an apparent paradox, increased use of sunscreen has coincided with the spiraling incidence of skin cancer. Is this because sunscreens are merely used improperly (as one expert notes in the story)? Or is it more complicated than that: Do sunscreens have inherent weaknesses? The news story would have served its readers better by telling them more about the quality of evidence to support its rosy outlook. Such an analysis might provide well-founded reassurance about the new sunscreen formulations—or it might instead suggest that the answers to some questions remain unknown. Whatever the case, readers deserve to know.
Although the story suggests that competition in the marketplace for new sunscreen formulations is vigorous, it makes no mention of costs.
Although one source quoted in the story quantifies the potential harm of improper use of sunscreen— inadequate skin coverage causes “25% less value”—there is no attempt to quantify the reported benefit of slathering up with new, specially formulated sunscreens.
The article mentions potential harms associated with older sunscreen formulations (e.g. ashy color, ineffective when exposed to light)—but says nothing about potential harms of the newer versions that are the story’s focus. Do they cause allergic or photoallergic reactions? Could they give sun-lovers unwarranted confidence in the lotions’ prowess? In an apparent paradox, increased use of sunscreen has been associated with the spiraling incidence of skin cancer. Is this because sunscreens are used improperly (as the article suggests)? Or do sunscreens have inherent weaknesses as well?
The news story fails to comment on the quality of evidence to support its contention that special ingredients unique to a select group of sunscreens protect people from the harmful consequences of ultraviolet rays. Does the evidence match the hype? Did researchers arrive at this conclusion after comparing the incidence of melanoma in a population of high-risk individuals randomly assigned to slather up with either “new” formulations or “old” ones, then follow them for many years? Or did they study mice in a laboratory, as in one recent Australian experiment? (Br J Dermatol. 2006;155(2):408-15.)
There is persuasive evidence linking exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays to melanoma, a formidable and sometimes fatal skin cancer, as well as to skin wrinkling and age spots, in certain individuals. The article mentions this link once, but does not dwell on it.
The news story quoted two sources from academic institutions. It’s difficult to know whether either individual has a potential conflict of interest.
The story fails to note other measures sun-lovers can take to protect themselves from UV rays. These include the use of protective clothing and avoiding midday sun. (Dermatol Clin. 2002 Oct;20(4):601-6.)
The story focuses largely on the increasing availability of new sunscreen formulations that are believed to protect sun lovers from harmful ultraviolet rays.
This article explains that some sunscreens have been around a long time and others have recently entered the market, formulated with new and supposedly better ingredients.
It is unclear whether the article relied solely or largely on a press release.