Don’t be shocked, but cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have jumped 2.4 percent every single year since 1980 among women. To put it in more immediate terms, one person dies every hour from melanoma. And there’s this: A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that participants who didn’t use sunscreen daily showed 24 percent more skin aging than those who did.
All of which begs the question: Why, oh why, are only 14 percent of women wearing sunscreen daily, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), especially when simply using an SPF of more than 15 can reduce the risks of developing skin cancer by 50 percent?
Real Simple asked readers on Facebook to give their reasons, then turned to dermatologists and researchers for solutions persuasive enough to overcome any obstacle.
The Excuse: Sunscreens Are Toxic
“Toxicity” was the number one reason why women in our unscientific survey said that they don’t wear sunscreen. Turns out, certain chemicals in sunscreens are problematic—but on lab animals. Retinyl palmitate, the vitamin A cousin that’s found in many sunscreens (and that boasts anti-aging effects when used in night creams), was shown to hasten development of skin cancer when worn after recent sun exposure. Oxybenzone, another common sunscreen ingredient, was linked to hormone disruption and possibly cell damage that may lead to skin cancer. But when it comes to humans, “in general, there’s no rigorous scientific evidence from clinical trials and research studies demonstrating that sunscreen ingredients harm the body,” says Frank Wang, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. “In contrast, sunscreens have been proven in studies to reduce the risk of skin cancer and an aged appearance.”
Still worried? Then steer clear of these ingredients altogether by using a chemical-free formulation with physical blocks, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These deflect UV rays rather than absorbing them and are gentle enough for sensitive skin. Try Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sport Mineral SPF 45 ($11.50, albabotanica.com) or MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($30, mdsolarsciences.com).
The Excuse: I’ll Become Vitamin D–Deficient If I Use One
There has been an ongoing debate about how much vitamin D the body needs and what the source should be. Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” since one way we get it is through the body’s response to UV rays. There was a fleeting moment several years ago when headlines suggested that people need more vitamin D than was thought and that we should get it directly from the sun. And so sun worshippers found the perfect excuse to toss the sunscreen and keep worshipping.
But in 2011 a large study at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, in Washington, D.C., discounted all that. The study reported that healthy Americans, even those getting little sun exposure, receive plenty of vitamin D from incidental sun exposure and dietary sources. The current recommended dietary intake is 600 IU (international units) a day from supplements or fortified foods, including milk. The paper also suggested that vitamin D isn’t quite living up to its hype. Aside from strengthening bones, its protective benefits against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses remain inconclusive. Earlier this year, an analysis of 40 studies on vitamin D, published in the journal Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, drew similar conclusions.
In any case, says Barbara A. Gilchrest, a professor of dermatology at the Boston University School of Medicine, “there is no evidence that wearing sunscreen or otherwise practicing safe sun leads to vitamin D deficiency.” According to the National Institutes of Health, just 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen three times a week delivers adequate levels of vitamin D for most complexions. After a certain amount of time, depending on your skin type, the UV damage continues, but no further vitamin D is thought to be produced. For most, maximum production occurs within about 30 minutes, says Gilchrest.