Confused about the mixed messages on sunscreen safety?

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  • Sarah says:

    Thankyou for your informative article :-)

  • Nancy Wai says:

    Excellent article. Can you comment on how much lower the protection is when using cosmetics such as foundations/face cream made with sunscreen vs layering sunscreen on first then cosmetics?

  • Alex Goldberg says:

    Thank you for your excellent article. What effect do the chemicals have on a human with an auto-immune disorder or a pre-existing skin condition? What about someone who has endocrine issues such as hypothyroidism? Has that been studied?

  • Alisa Rybalko Guerra says:

    It is important to get a good mix of chemical and miniral ingredients in a sunscreen to get the optimal protection.
    Avene (not Aveno) sun screens are best

  • Scott says:

    I believe the problem isn’t what chemicals you are putting on your skin, but rather, what the chemicals are blocking the skin from absorbing. Most sunscreens block the natural vitamin D we absorb from the sun. Vitamin D is essential to stopping cancer cells from growing. I understand that sunburns cause melanoma, so the best thing you can do is try not to stay in the sun, especially the 11-2pm sun, for prolonged times. Like it or not, cancer is big money to pharmaceutical companies, and sunscreens are made by pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies don’t make money off the healthy or the dead. Its in there best interest to keep you sick.

  • Jill says:

    I am disappointed to see no mention of non-medicinal ingredients I’m this article. Just because they are non-medicinal doesn’t mean they’re benign, especially when you’re slathering a large surface area of your body with them, day after day. We took this approach with food, vilifying certain foods or nutrients (fat, carbs) while ignoring additives like emulsifiers and artificial colours. We are only now beginning to study the health effects of those compounds and are finding they do cause biological effects like inflammation. In the absence of strong data we should be cautious, not callous.

  • Alice says:

    Slathering yourself in cream may be harmful, but staying out of the sun completely may also leave you with low levels of Vitamin D, which is also harmful. People in northern latitudes need to get their levels of D checked. I think in future we will discover that what we thought was a good thing in sunscreens, maybe wasn’t so good. I personally steer clear of chemicals, and also try to get some morning and late afternoon sun as this is a natural thing. Best bets are to steer clear of “burning sun” and cover up, but maybe not with cream, with clothes. I also supplement with Vitamin D year round, as the body does not make it without the sun and I live in a northern latitude.

  • Geoffrey Forbes MD says:

    %featured%The rate of melanoma in black people in the US is 1/20th of that in white people. Melanoma may not be related to sun exposure in black people. Basal Cell Carcinomas are rare in black people, as are squamous cell carcinomas.

    Public policy should take this into account. Black mothers deal with their kid’s skin reactions when their children are forced to put sunscreen on at the daycare.%featured%

    Articles such as this should take this into account. Black Canadians read these articles. One size does not fit all.

    In my practice as a family physician, If asked by a black person on my recommendations re sunscreen, I tell them to avoid it and use common sense in sun exposure. If asked about the widespread practice of daycares putting sunscreen on their kids before they go out in the sun, I support their frequent desire to avoid such exposure.

    • Wendy Glauser says:

      Dear Dr. Forbes,

      This is a very important point! We have featured your comment. Thank you,


  • Darrell Yetman says:

    This is an excellent, very clearly enunciated article, which gives a plainly understandable explanation of the issues. However, may I point out a minor flaw? One thing that can negatively affect the reliability of an article such as this – and the trust the public might place in it – is inconsistency in terms, for example, the suggestion that ‘mice’ and ‘rats’ are the same animals:
    “The EWG’s claim that a form of vitamin A sometimes added to sunscreens – retinyl palmitate – is linked to an increase in skin cancer is also based on very weak evidence. The study behind that claim involved mice that were “genetically modified to be susceptible to sun damage,” Nuttall points out. In fact, a control cream that contained what EWG itself deems a safe compound triggered skin cancers in those rats.”

    • Wendy Glauser says:

      Hi Darrell,

      Thank you for pointing out this error! We have updated that section accordingly.


  • Abe Gonshor says:

    A well written and very informative document…thank you.
    Am I correct in assuming that using SPF 50 or 60 will give better protection to the skin if applied liberally ? Please advise.

    • Michelle Levy, MD, FRCPC says:

      Thank you for your question Abe.

      The SPF value assigned to a sunscreen is based on the application of 2 mg/cm(2) of product – a generous quantity that most people don’t use. A linear relationship exists between SPF and sunscreen thickness/density, meaning that if you apply half of the recommended quantity of sunscreen, you will achieve half the SPF.

      Rules of thumb you can use in order to ensure you apply enough sunscreen are to use 1/2 a teaspoonful for the face and neck and two tablespoons (a shot glassful) for the body. Remember to reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours and immediately after swimming or vigorous exercise.

  • Samantha says:

    Great article on an important topic! I am sure the articles the EWG based their claims off are indeed flawed, including in some of the many ways explained above, but I do not think the claim that one chemical shouldn’t influence birth weight in males vs females differently proposed by Dr. Beecker is legitimate. It’s certainly conceivable males vs females may be affected differently by a single chemical, particularly if the chemical does impact hormone signaling. A minute flaw in an otherwise excellent article.

  • Julie George says:

    This is a very informative article. I often feel torn when slathering sunscreen on my children, wondering if what “they” say about chemicals holds any merit. Thank you for the balanced, detailed, well-explained and well-researched information. I would never have had the time nor the sense of perspective to find out the truth on my own. Thanks again!

  • Ronald Worton says:

    Excellent article. I have been pushing reluctant family and friends to use sunscreen for years and this provides me with added confidence in that recommendation. My one regret is that I did not start using it much sooner.


Wendy Glauser


Wendy is a freelance health and science journalist and a former staff reporter with Healthy Debate.

Debra Bournes


Dr. Debra Bournes is the Chief Nursing Executive and Vice-President of Clinical Programs at The Ottawa Hospital.

Andrew Remfry


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