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Sunscreen: Causes Cancer or Protects Against It?

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No one doubts that excessive sun exposure can cause skin cancer. The question is, does sunscreen prevent it?

The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays damage the skin by either prematurely aging or burning it. The type of damage is determined by the wavelength of the light rays, but both forms of damage can lead to skin cancer. To prevent said damage (and cancer), doctors, aestheticians, and moms everywhere recommend wearing sunscreen.

Theoretically, sunscreens offer various SPF, or "sun protection factor". The SPF rating you select should equal to the number of minutes you plan to be in the sun divided by the number of minutes it takes for your skin to redden naturally with a minimum of SPF 15.

Unfortunately, sunscreen may be causing more harm than good in two ways. First, the SPF may be giving people a false sense of safety. A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit and consumer advocacy group, indicates that up to 87% of sunscreens do not provide adequate sun protection.

Second (and arguably more disconcerting), some ingredients found in sunscreens like oxybenzone are designed to protect the skin but may be harming it, according to a study by the US Center for Disease Control(CDC).

Oxybenzone is derived from benzophenone and used in hundreds of skincare products from sunscreens to lip balms. However, oxybenzone has ability to penetrate the epidermal/dermal junction, where it can actually cause (not prevent) free radical damage that may lead to cancer.

The body does have a natural defense against UV damage. It increases the production of a pigment called melanin (aka "a tan"). But according to the CDC's Farm Bureau Safety Program, "[E]ven the darkest skin doesn't contain enough melanin to prevent damage from exposure to the sun."

So what is the answer? According to Face Parlour Medical Advisor Dr. Whitney Burrell Holds, "Michael Jackson has it right: hat, shades, veil... whenever you set foot outside." As for sunscreen, we recommend doing a little research and selecting safer options, like the following:

Dermaquest ZinClear SPF 30. This product is a Face Parlour favorite, especially for acne-prone skin! The light-weight formula goes on sheer. Plus, it contains a hefty dose of zinc oxide (18.6% to be exact), which offers strong broad-spectrum protection.

Keys Solar Rx SPF 30. Despite controversy over the use of nano-zinc oxide (a tiny particle able to better penetrate and therefore better protect the skin), this vegan formula with an herbal scent is gentle and significant UVA and UVB blocking strength.

Boscia Oil-Free Daily Hydration, SPF 15. Although reapplication is critical, this product offers great, everyday protection against UVA rays without all the worrisome, irritating ingredients.

Overall, tossing on a hat is still a good idea... and a great way to support your favorite team during the final days of March Madness. Go Bruins!

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