Haims: Reducing the odds of skin cancer | AspenTimes.com

Haims: Reducing the odds of skin cancer

Judson Haims
Judson Haims
Courtesy photo

While there are many types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most common, deadliest, and most avoidable form of skin cancer. Of the many types of cancer, skin cancer has the highest amount of DNA mutations. Skin cancer is aggressive and is likely to reoccur.

Spring and summer are nearing and many of us are getting ready to spend time playing outside. However, while we’re outside being healthy, we need to be aware of the dangers of sun exposure. Further, we need to be better educated about sunscreens and the distortions of SPF ratings.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research group, and Consumer Reports have not necessarily been on the same page as the FDA when it comes to sun screen protection and SPF ratings.

One of the issues of disagreement is that even though the FDA contends that products labeled with SPF higher than 50 are “inherently misleading,” they have not mandated that producers of sunscreen refrain from labeling their product with values above this.

The Environmental Working Group wants sunscreen consumers to understand that while they may assume that they get twice as much protection from sunscreen products that are labeled with SPF ratings of 100 as from SPF 50, in reality, the extra protection is insignificant. The EWG states that, properly applied, SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of sunburn rays while an SPF 30 sunscreen shields skin from about 97 percent.

SPF values above 50 are statistically so insignificant that you shouldn’t be swayed by them.

Further, sunscreen pricing varies quite a bit. Predominately due to brand recognition, but secondarily from SPF values, sunscreens can vary in price — about 3,000 percent!  According to Dr. Steve Xu, a resident in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead study author of a recent study published online in the JAMA Dermatology (Journal of the American Medical Association), prices for sunscreen vary between $0.68 and $24 an ounce.

When you consider the protective gear you need for sports, do you often stop short of fully protecting yourself? I do not see too many hockey players put their helmets on but neglect chest and leg pads, nor do I see too many kayakers wear helmets but forego flotation devices. Sunscreen by itself is only one tool in the arsenal for sun protection.

Alone, sunscreen does not provide complete protection from the sun and skin cancer. While it is important that people apply sunscreen properly, and reapply frequently, it is important that people supplement protection by using a hat, protective clothing, and sunglasses.


People should educate themselves to be aware of sunscreen ingredients – some may be unsafe. Further, some ingredients remain active within the body for days, even weeks, after being applied.

  • SPF above 50 – Efficacy is not substantial
  • Retinyl palmitate – retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid, another form of Vitamin A, can speed the development of cancerous lesions and tumors on sun-exposed skin.
  • Oxybenzone – believed to cause hormone disruption and cell damage, which could promote cancer. The EWG indicates oxybenzone is unsafe for use at a concentration up to 6 percent.

There are two type of UV rays in sunlight that have shown to be harmful to the skin, UVA and UVB. UVB rays are more closely related to short-term skin damage while UVB rays are more closely related to short-term skin damage. When looking for a safe and protective sunscreen, consider products which have been proven to be safer:

  • Broad Spectrum -sunscreen protects against UVB and UVA rays
  • Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide – Natural mineral-based

Some sunscreens found safe and effective by the EWG and the Skin Cancer Foundation include:

Don’t take chances with skin cancer. Apply quality sunscreen often and use clothing along with a hat for added protection.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.