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Woman standing in the sun with sunscreen on her shoulder

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

Daniel Sterner
By Daniel Sterner

Warm weather is finally here! That means sun. With the sun comes the sunburns. Get enough sunburns and eventually you could get cancer. Sometimes really scary cancer.

Melanoma can be very aggressive and quick. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates about 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer. Almost always that skin cancer is located somewhere that gets a lot of sun. More often than not that means your face.

Here in Idaho, we are in the high desert, which means we will burn quicker than those down at sea level. I have lived in Idaho most of my life and I already had one precancerous mole removed when I was 31. My mother, who has spent years trying to convince me to wear sun protection, spent hours telling me I should have listened. She’s not wrong.

To avoid having a chunk of your face cut off in your future, it is important to protect yourself from the sun today. The best way to protect yourself is to cover yourself. Long sleeved shirts, wide hats, umbrellas. Anything that covers your skin is a fantastic and cheap way to prevent cancer. Idaho’s waters are cold 365 days a year. When swimming, consider a wet suit.

Although not as effective as long-sleeved shirts or wet suits, you may prefer to use sunscreen. Some people on social media are currently spreading misinformation that sunscreen causes cancer. That concern comes from about five years ago when a research group found that some sunscreens contained benzene. Benzene can increase the risks of some types of cancer. It was never intentionally added to sunscreen but was found to be a contaminant in some sunscreen products. To my understanding it was mostly spray sunscreen products and gels.

Since benzene contamination was discovered Neutrogena, Coppertone, Aveeno, and Johnson & Johnson all issued recalls on products that tested positive. These recalls occurred around 2021. Currently I am not aware of any brands that contain benzene.

Other active ingredients like zinc have been found to be effective and have not been linked to cancer. If you do use sunscreen. Make sure it is at least SPF 30, but the higher the better.

I’ve had patients die of skin cancer. It’s tragic. I’ve had many more patients have pieces of them carefully removed to prevent skin cancer from spreading or forming. I didn’t enjoy having my mole removed. As always with cancer an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment. So please enjoy the great outdoors, but don’t get burned.

– Daniel Sterner is a physician at Health West American Falls. He specializes in family medicine and obstetrical care and is accepting new patients.



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